The most basic responsibility Congress has is deciding how much money the government takes in and how much it spends. But Congress has passed its spending bills on time only four times since 1952. In the last 14 years, annual spending bills have been submitted an average of four months late.
The upshot is more wasteful and inefficient government. When Congress fails to pass spending bills on time, it relies on temporary spending measures called continuing resolutions – which provide the money federal agencies need to operate based roughly on what they spent the previous year. What continuing resolutions don't provide is any chance for Congress to debate the most fundamental question of all:
Why are we spending this money?
Congress spends first and asks question later when it should instead be spending only after figuring out what goals it's trying to achieve.
Meanwhile, Congress' constant stop-and-go budgeting creates havoc for government agencies, and the citizens who depend on them.
What if you had to decide whether to buy a new car or go on vacation without having any idea what your salary was or even how much money you had? That would be almost impossible. But this is the situation facing federal agencies that often don't know how much money they're getting or when it's coming. This uncertainty has severe consequences. Congress' failure to pass a timely budget in early 2011 led to:
- The Federal Aviation Administration delaying hiring of new air traffic controllers;
- The National Institutes of Health postponing grants for cutting-edge medical research;
- The Defense Department delaying critical maintenance of Humvees and cancelling research on next-generation weapon systems; and
- The State Department cutting staff in Iraq at the same time it was trying to manage the hand-off of civilian control to the Iraqi government.
The No Labels Solution
If Congress can't make spending and budget decisions on time, they shouldn't get paid on time either. Every government fiscal year begins October 1. If the congressional appropriations (spending) process is not completed by that date, congressional pay ceases as of October 1, and isn't restored until appropriations are completed. This is the only No Labels solution that requires a new law, which could be passed in 2012, and would take effect when the new Congress is seated in 2013.
This proposal requires a new law to be passed by the House and Senate.