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How We Got to This CR Mess

For once, I thought it would be worthwile to actually trace why we've had government shutdown debacle after government shutdown debacle this year from a procedural standpoint. 


I like to think of Continuing Resolutions, or CRs -- what the government has been operating on for over a year now-- as going grocery shopping without a list. We all know that when you want to stay on budget while food shopping, you write down the items you  need and their estimated cost, which usually keeps you enough on track that you don't go Mike Tyson on your budget. If you go shopping sans budget at the last minute or when you're hungry, well, forget about being economical.

Congress right now is passing a CR because it didn't get its budget or appropriations funding done on time.

The budget itself in Congress is more theoretical. It gives appropriations committees a top line discretionary spending number with which to work. And it gives them a blueprint. But it's like a bark without a bite. What really funds all of the government action are the appropriations bills themselves, of which there are 12. One thing that Appropriations Chairman Rep. Hal Rogers of Kentucky emphasized when he got the chairmanship last year was that he wanted to complete all 12 appropriations bills. To date, the committee has completed 11 out of 12. The 12th one was scheduled for markup the first week in September.

However, the bigger delay in the committee workoad schedule came because basically January through April in the House was devoted to cleaning up the mess that the Democrats left from the previous year, in which they passed no appropriations bills, despite controlling both chambers of Congress and the presidency. It's been made painfully obvious that the Democrats don't like to operate on a budget. Because nothing was passed, that's why there were so many threats of a government shutdown earlier this year. Again, it wasn't that just a budget didn't pass; it's that the Democrats in the House failed on the appropriations front, too. It's safe to say that neglect has made this year's workload more difficult, since much of the summer was also devoted to the debt ceiling debacle.


How have Republicans done since they took over the House (which is where appropriations bills originiate, technically)? Of the 11 bills passed out of committee, only 6 have passed the House, and they were in discussions of the 7th before breaking for August recess. Rep. Eric Cantor, who makes the floor schedule, would be the one responsible for bringing them to the floor. However, the need to focus on the jobs agenda became a priority. Plus, since Sen. Harry Reid chose to send only one appropriations bill to the Senate floor, it looks like Cantor decided against any more action in the House. Here's one chart showing the state of the appropriations bills.

This is how you get out of control government spending.




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