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Avoiding Shutdowns and Restoring Trust: The Need for Budget Reform

Avoiding Shutdowns and Restoring Trust: The Need for Budget Reform

The budgeting process is broken. Deadlines are regularly ignored, political gain is placed above good policy, and debt only continues to grow. The country is currently facing a deadline. The fiscal year ends at midnight, September 30th. If spending bills are not enacted by then, the government will enter a shutdown meaning many government-funded functions deemed non-essential will stop. The threat of shutdowns has unfortunately become a regular part of U.S. budget negotiations where the entire process is held hostage, members of Congress are strongarmed into voting for policy they didn’t get to affect, and reckless spending becomes ever more entrenched in our political system. Without Congress able to enact all of the necessary 12 appropriations the bills, the only other way to dodge shutdown is to pass a continuing resolution (CR). A CR essentially extends the runway and keeps funding levels the same as the prior year while the government remains open, and lawmakers continue working on appropriations bills. CRs are a temporary band-aid fix – one that is used far too often in lieu of addressing the fundamental problems within the budget process. The most recent year that all appropriations bills were passed on time and without the need for a CR was 1997.

Political infighting and budget negotiation chaos can seem like a distant problem confined to the Capitol, but it has serious consequences that affect the country’s long-term stability and undermines the trust that we place in our elected officials to uphold their constitutional obligations. The budget fights that now seem like a regular occurrence at the end of each fiscal year will not be fixed by pointing fingers or party politics. Congress must come together to return to an efficient process that brings representatives to the table. Fortunately, there are bipartisan solutions, like the Prevent Government Shutdowns Act, that realign incentives and automatically keeps the government open until Congress gets its job done.

Without the constant threat of a shutdown, legislators can turn their attention to the long-term stability and strength of the economy by addressing the national debt rather than legislating crisis to crisis. Compared to just last year the deficit doubled; that represents around 6,000 dollars in new borrowing for every single American.  The current spending trajectory is unsustainable.

The American people cannot continue to shoulder the burden of irresponsible spending and the high prices that occur as a result. Real reform starts with a real budget, one that includes all spending and all revenue in one package. Regularly reviewing, reassessing, and evaluating such a budget promotes responsible spending and keeps legislators involved and engaged in the process rather than shutting them out the way our current system does.

Fixing the broken budget process would move the country toward greater fiscal stability and a system that brings representatives to the table where the priority is policy and not political theater. A comprehensive budget and functioning budget process would further strengthen not only our economy but ensure that responsibility and accountability return to spending considerations.

Isabel Soto – Policy Director, The LIBRE Initiative