On Wednesday of last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H. J. Res 124, a continuing resolution (CR) for fiscal year 2015 that will fund the federal government until Dec. 11.
The CR, which was passed the following day by the U. S. Senate, sets the discretionary funding level for the federal government — at least until Dec. 11, at an annual rate of $1.012 trillion.
Whenever Congress fails to pass a budget before the federal fiscal year ends on Sept. 30, passing a CR is necessary in order to avoid a shutdown of the federal government as happened last year. A CR is nothing more than a resolution to continue funding at the same levels as the year before.
The fiscal year for the federal government starts on Oct. 1. Funding for the routine activities of most federal agencies is contingent upon the passage of 12 appropriation bills by Congress before this date.
Thus far, none of the 12 appropriations bills necessary to fund federal agencies for FY15 have been passed by Congress, although the full House has passed seven of the bills (including DOD and Military Construction/VA). Another four bills have been approved by the House Appropriation Committee with only the Labor, HHS bill not being passed.
While the House has at least done some of their job, the full Senate has not passed a single appropriations bill and the Senate Appropriations Committee has approved only eight bills.
Since Congress adjourned on Friday of last week and will not be back until after the general elections during the first week in November, a CR was necessary to avoid a shutdown.
Astonishingly, the last time all 12 regular appropriations bills were passed on time was 1996.
Perhaps even more astonishing is that between FY12, a total of 92 CRs were needed in order to keep the federal government running, ranging in duration from 21 days to 365 days.
So not only does the federal government not balance their budget, in most fiscal years they don’t even have a budget — they just keep going at the same levels as the previous year.
Making matters worse is the fact that our national debt continues to grow astronomically while we pass CRs adding to the problem instead of addressing it. The national debt — now in excess of $17.75 trillion — is the economic issue of our generation and cannot be addressed without first balancing our budget.
Every year since FY02 spending has exceeded revenues in the federal budget. In FY09 deficits became significantly larger, exceeding $1 trillion.
Recognizing that this was unsustainable, the Budget and Control Act of 2011 was passed by Congress with the goal of reducing the deficit by at least $1.5 trillion from FY12 to FY21. Popularly known as sequestration, this set automatic spending reductions in place when a budget was not passed.
Although a step in the right direction, many have criticized sequestration because of its disproportional cuts to certain departments, particularly the military.
Unlike the federal government, in the state of Georgia, we are constitutionally required to balance our budget. As a member of the Appropriations committee during the “Great Recession” that began in 2008, balancing our budget to reflect a decrease in revenues of almost 25 percent without raising taxes was no easy task. Cuts were made during that time that I did not like and many that I still don’t like, however we did what had to be done.
Initially we utilized across-the-board cuts where departments were required to submit a budget with a certain percentage decrease from the previous year. While this was effective to a certain degree, at times, much like sequestration, it proved to be somewhat disproportionate.
A much better tool, and one that should be utilized at the federal level, is “zero-based budgeting” where every department — on a rotating schedule, i.e., every three to four years — is required to start at zero and justify everything in their budget. This eliminates the need for percentage increases or decreases and forces appropriators to review programs and policies to determine what is essential.
Zero-based budgeting is a useful tool and could help us balance our budget at the federal level.
However, in order to utilize this tool, Congress must stop passing CRs and start passing a budget.
Sen. Buddy Carter can be reached at 421-B State Capitol, Atlanta, GA 30334. His Capitol office number is (404) 656-5109. You can connect with him on Facebook at facebook.com/buddycarterga or follow him on Twitter @Buddy_Carter.