Government affairs

Legislative Updates

Senate subcommittee holds hearing on the uncertainty from continued resolutions

Today, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs’ Subcommittee on Federal Spending Oversight and Emergency Management held a hearing on the problems and cost of funding the government through continuing resolutions (CR) and omnibus packages instead of a full agreed-upon budget. The hearing, titled, “Terrible, No Good, Very Bad Ways of Funding Government: Exploring the Cost to Taxpayers of Spending Uncertainty caused by Governing through Continuing Resolutions, Giant Omnibus Spending Bills, and Shutdown Crises” featured witnesses from government agencies, a research institution, and a bipartisan public policy organization.

With an average of four CRs per year since 1974, a recent increase of 34 since 2011, and that Congress hasn’t passed all 12 required appropriations bills since 1997, the legislative body consistently struggles to achieve its most fundamental task of funding the government. Without a long-term budget outlook, government agencies struggle to plan, the military faces additional needless difficulties, and while letter carriers continue to work without issue, hundreds of thousands of federal employees are frequently furloughed from their jobs. The American public loses access to important public services and suffers as a result.

The hearing highlighted these issues as well as the fact that whenever the government operates under a CR, it does so at a higher overall cost than under a long-term budget. The primary obstacle listed by witnesses, and echoed by Subcommittee Chairman Rand Paul (R-KY), to passing a long-term budget on-time is due to a lack of political will to engage in bi-partisan negotiations during the process. This results in costly CRs, which further aggravate lawmakers and erode public trust.

Continuing resolutions, however, are not likely to go away anytime soon and witnesses argued for the need to reform both the budget process as a whole and the design of CRs in general. Anytime a CR is being drafted, witnesses called for a need to lay out what the objectives of the CR would be and specifically the pros and cons of each choice. Additionally important is the length of each CR. Witnesses testified that the shorter the CR, the more costly it would be. By enacting a single, longer-term CR, objectives could be met for a lower cost and ideally an agreement on the budget would be made in the meantime.

In anticipation of the upcoming February 9 funding deadline, Sen. Paul took the time to advocate for his own bill, which would introduce automatic continuing resolutions, funding agencies at 99 percent of the previous year’s budget until Congress finalizes remaining appropriations bills. Sen. Paul introduced similar bills in 2011 and 2013, none of which have made it out of committee.

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