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Commission on Political Reform Spotlight: Why We Need a Two-Year Budget Process

By Jordan LaPier

Thursday, February 19, 2015

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In its report released last summer, the Commission on Political Reform urged Congress to adopt a two-year budgeting cycle. Specifically, the commission supported adoption of a budget process that would set spending levels and caps for various government agencies for a two-year period. Current law requires Congress to pass just an annual budget. However, in recent years, Congress has rarely passed a budget, the result of which has been the inability to pass the appropriations bills that implement the budget and fund the government. When Congress fails to pass the appropriations bills on time, it often resorts to what are called “continuing resolutions”, or agreements to extend the existing funding amounts for a certain length of time in order to keep the government running.

Remember the government shutdown of 2013? That’s what happens when Congress fails to pass a continuing resolution before the existing funding expires. Moreover, the congressional stalemate this month over funding for the Department of Homeland Security would have been avoided if Congress had passed all of its regular appropriations bills last year by the deadline of October 1, 2014, when the government’s new fiscal year began.

In December, Republicans and Democrats were ultimately able to reach agreement on a $1.1 trillion omnibus bill to fund most of the federal government until October 1, 2015. However, in an exception, funding for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was extended only through February 27 – to allow for additional debate on the President’s executive action protecting up to 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation (DHS is responsible for carrying out the announced programs). To date, Democrats and Republicans have not been able to resolve their differences on this issue – meaning that continued funding of DHS remains in question.

Moving to a two-year budgeting process would have two major benefits: first, it would give Congress more time to adequately debate and account for the complex and polarizing issues that go into creating a federal budget; and second, it would give government agencies greater stability and allow for more long-term strategic thinking.