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How long can we operate without a budget?

The nation has been whipsawed this year by budget arguments in Congress that run perilously close to forcing a shutdown before coming back from the brink, just briefly,  before the whole cycle starts over again.

Beyond the obvious stress on federal employees, who can’t count on having a paycheck during the period when the shutdown looks possible, this isn’t good for anyone, except for posturing members of Congress. And maybe not even for them.

Congress didn't reach a final agreement on the fiscal 2011 budget until April, more than halfway through the fiscal year. And before that, the last budget Congress passed was on April 29, 2009. The country has been largely running on continuing resolutions, temporary stopgap measures that preserve existing or reduced levels of funding for a set period of time and then expire, starting the negotiations all over again.

This calendar year, those negotiations have been contentious enough that the very real chance of a shutdown has arisen three times (twice over spending bills, once over the debt ceiling), and there’ll be at least one more opportunity before the year ends. (That fourth chance will be in a different fiscal year.)

At least one member of Congress, Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle (R-NY), tried to give her colleagues more incentive to pass a budget. A bill she introduced in June, the “Just Do Your Job Act of 2011” (HR 2372), would have defunded Congressional budget committees and majority leadership offices if Congress failed to pass a budget.

But her bill, despite having attracted six co-sponsors, was referred to the Committee on House Administration on the day it was introduced and went no further, according to the Library of Congress’s Thomas.loc.gov site. Buerkle's bill applied only to the budgets for fiscal years 2011 and 2012, but many FCW readers have similarly suggested that Congress should not get paid when it fails to pass a budget. However, given that the very people who can't get budgets passed are the ones who would vote on such a proposal, it seems like an unlikely step.

We’re not sure how to solve this problem, but we are pretty sure it’s going to become an increasingly dangerous problem if it’s not solved soon. The nation can’t function for long on stop-gap funding and angry rhetoric. Congress just needs to do its job.

Any solutions out there?

Posted on Sep 29, 2011 at 12:18 PM


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