Last Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed House Joint Resolution 124, a continuing resolution for fiscal year 2015 that will fund the federal government until Dec. 11.
The continuing resolution, 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 Sept. 30, passing a continuing resolution is necessary to avoid a shutdown of the federal government, as happened last year. A continuing resolution 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 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 fiscal year 2015 has been passed by Congress, although the full House has passed seven of the bills (including Department of Defense and Military Construction/VA). Another four bills have been approved by the House Appropriation Committee, with only the Labor, Health and Human Services bills not being passed.
While the House has at least done some of its job, the full Senate has not passed a single appropriations bill and the Senate Appropriations Committee has approved only eight bills.
Since Congress adjourned last Friday and will not be back until after the general elections during the first week in November, a continuing resolution 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 fiscal year 1998 and fiscal year 2012, a total of 92 continuing resolutions 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 its budget, in most fiscal years it don’t even have a budget. It just keeps 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 continuing resolutions, 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 fiscal year 2002, spending has exceeded revenues in the federal budget. In fiscal year 2009, 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 fiscal year 2012 to fiscal year 2021. 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 in which 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” in which every department — on a rotating schedule, i.e., every three to four years — is required to start at zero and justify everything in its 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 that could help us balance our budget at the federal level. However, in order to utilize this tool, Congress must stop passing continuing resolutions and start passing a budget.
Carter, who is running for Congress, can be reached at on Facebook at facebook.com/buddycarterga.