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Healthy Congress Index: Budget Actions Obscure Broken Process

Washington, D.C.– Senate action on a budget resolution this week obscures continued dysfunction with the budget-making and appropriations process, according to new Healthy Congress Index data released today by the Bipartisan Policy Center.

Congress is now more than six months behind its April 15 deadline to enact a fiscal year (FY) 2018 budget. This year’s missed deadline is part of a worsening trend. Over the last decade, Congress has only adopted a budget resolution five times and never on time. However, when budget resolutions have come late, BPC’s tracking finds they are typically late by a few weeks or a month. Only for FY 2017, when the budget was adopted nine months late, has the process been further behind schedule.

President Trump submitted his proposed budget 107 days after it was technically due on the first Monday in February. While it is typical for new presidents to submit their budgets late, President Trump’s FY 2018 budget was the latest ever.

“An important part of regular order is passing a budget and appropriations bills in a timely manner,” said John Fortier, director of BPC’s Democracy Project. “Late is better than never, but Congress continues to struggle to have a timely and effective budget process.”

“Since 2000, Congress has failed to pass a budget eight times, including five consecutive years between 2010 and 2014,” said former Sen. Olympia Snowe, a BPC senior fellow. “The last budget Congress approved was long past the April 15 deadline required by law, and this year’s will be more than six months late. We must demand that Congress pass budgets on time. Moreover, BPC’s Commission on Political Reform, which I co-chair, calls on Congress to move to a biennial budget process that includes two-year budget resolutions and appropriations bills. This would encourage more long-term planning and free up time for Congress to focus on conducting critical oversight of executive branch programs.”

In other metrics tracked in the Healthy Congress Index, BPC finds continuing positive news in one area: committees in both houses continue to report out record or near-record numbers of bills. The news on working days in Washington is middling. Both the House and the Senate are on par with recent congresses, but below some earlier congresses and below the number recommended by BPC’s commission.

Finally, on floor debate, the news is not good. In the House, members had few opportunities to amend legislation on the floor this year, with no bills considered under open rules. Only one other comparable year, during the 111th Congress, had zero open rules at this point. The Senate has seen low numbers of cloture votes and amendments considered, reflecting diminished legislative floor activity.

The Healthy Congress Index, launched in 2015, tracks the number of days Congress spends on legislative business, how open the Senate is to debate and amendments, and how effectively Congress follows regular order by allowing a robust committee process, floor debate, and conference committees to resolve legislative differences between the houses. Both the current Congress and recent congresses are measured to provide historical benchmarks.

The index is part of BPC’s long-term effort to bring accountability to Congress and answer the question: “How is Congress governing?” The criteria are based on key recommendations released last year by the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Commission on Political Reform, which was created to investigate the causes and consequences of America’s partisan political divide and make recommendations to reinvigorate a political process that can work during a time of hyper-polarized politics.

The index compiles and analyzes data from a variety of publicly available records for both the current and past congresses, including the Congressional Record and House and Senate daily calendars.

View the data and read our full analysis.