September 30th marks the end of Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 and Congress has yet to appropriate funding for FY 2017. Under the budget process outlined in the Congressional Budget Act of 1974, Congress is required to provide funding in advance of the next fiscal year by passing twelve separate appropriation bills. However, the last time Congress adhered to the budget timeline and passed all twelve bills was in 1996. This year is no different, as Congress has yet to present even a single appropriation measure to the President.
In order to fund the FY 2017 without passing each of the appropriations bills -- which at this point in FY 2016 is politically impossible -- Congress must pass a stopgap funding measure, like an omnibus spending bill and/or a continuing resolution (CR). An omnibus spending bill is legislation that will fund the entire government until the end of the next fiscal year and will encompass a number of different topics and policy riders. A CR would fund the government for anywhere between a few days and an entire year, but the last 106 CRs on average have extended funding for just 25 days. CRs are often used for short periods of time while leaders try and hammer out an omnibus deal.
If things go according to Senate Majority Leader McConnell’s plan, Congress will pass a CR before the end of next week that will fund the government until December 9th. This will allow lawmakers to return home for campaigning and give them more time to shape a long term budget agreement. After the election, Congress will return to Washington D.C. to pass that longer term budget agreement. If Congress does not pass a stopgap funding measure before the end of the FY 2016, they risk causing another government shutdown, like the 16-day shutdown in 2013.
The major issue that is hindering Congress from passing the continuing resolution is a debate over $80 million in Zika funding and whether those funds will be made available to Planned Parenthood in Puerto Rico.
Sadly, neither the CR approach nor the omnibus spending bill are especially beneficial solutions to taxpayers. Congress should have completed its job during the year by engaging in detailed discussion and debate, and then passing the twelve appropriations bills. Congress’ inability to stick to budgetary guidelines and spending restraint mechanisms, like the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA), have placed taxpayers in this lose-lose situation. However, this situation is not completely hopeless, and taxpayers can still seek positive policies during this budget battle, like policies that eliminate funding for harmful regulations.
The current Administration has finalized over $99 billion in costly regulations that impact the economy, with another $38 billion coming before the next president is sworn in. The enactment of a CR that leads into the next Congressional session would allow these regulations to take root and have long-term adverse impacts for job creation and economic growth.
NTU’s Executive Vice President Brandon Arnold noted, allowing Congress to punt the appropriation process to any point past the swearing in of the next President and Congress would have negative, economic ramifications. The only politically feasible way taxpayers can be protected from these harmful regulations is if the regulations are denied funding through a long-term spending bill, like an omnibus bill.
Since elections and their outcomes are fickle and unpredictable, shifting budget-crafting responsibility to the next Congress could backfire, especially if the elections bring more fiscally-liberal politicians to Washington, D.C.
Taxpayers should encourage their lawmakers to work with fiscally-responsible leadership to enact a longer term spending bill in this session. This would enable Congress to include “policy riders” to deny funding to the regulatory onrush. Moreover, Congress should make sure any spending bill does not exceed the budget caps established in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 (BBA). Ideally, the omnibus will fund the government below the BBA levels and aim to abide by the original BCA levels.
It is much easier to identify and remove harmful policies when proponents of limited government have to majority in Congress than it is when they posses a minority. Taxpayers and conservatives should resist the low hanging fruit that is a continuing resolution that enters into 2017 and look for current opportunities to restrain federal spending and eliminate burdensome regulations.