Aug. 26, 2019

Congress is losing institutional knowledge on one of its key constitutional responsibilities: setting a budget and appropriating federal funds.

The 104th Congress, in session from 1995 through 1996, was the last to complete all appropriations bills before the start of the new fiscal year on October 1. Today, only 121 sitting representatives and 69 sitting senators have congressional careers stretching back to when the appropriations process was completed on time and in order. That leaves a Congress in which a concerning 64.5% of its membership has never participated in a regular appropriations and budget process.

With the Congressional Budget Office’s recent announcement that U.S. debt will exceed $1 trillion in Fiscal Year 2020, Congress’ need to reaffirm its fiscal authority is paramount to our nation’s future prosperity. As the CBO states in its 2019 Long-Term Budget Outlook, “Although long-term projections are very uncertain, in CBO’s assessment, even if a key set of factors, including productivity growth and interest rates, were favorable for the fiscal situation over the next three decades, debt as a share of GDP would most likely rise if current laws remained unchanged.”

Congress holds the power of the purse and, unfortunately, the current Legislature is continuing to destroy its own institutional norms. As of August 23, the House has passed only 10 of the 12 appropriations bills, and the Senate has yet to advance any—even at the subcommittee level. Similarly, lawmakers have not yet approved a budget resolution for Fiscal Year 2020.

A dwindling number of members hold the experience of participating in a successful, proper budget and appropriations cycle. This needs to change. Members need to learn the proper procedure and take an authoritative stand demanding that committee and chamber leadership return Congress to a regular budget process.

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