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The Sausage Factory

How Is Washington Doing on the Budget Process?

Try passing the above bill off at a store and see how far you’d get.

If a section of a dollar bill were added each time the Federal budget and appropriations process advanced a step, that is all the United States would have so far. And we are less than two weeks away from the end of the fiscal year.

Each year the Congress must produce a budget and 12 spending bills to fund the nation’s agencies, programs and other initiatives. To complete this process, the House and Senate budget committees each produce their own budget resolutions, which are then sent to the full House and Senate for approval. Once the House and Senate have approved their own budgets, the two Chambers meet to settle on a single budget.

Once each Chamber has its budget, the Appropriations Committees subcommittees can get to work producing bills to fund the government according to the terms of the budget resolution. The Appropriations Committees must pass each bill before sending it to their respective Chambers. The Chambers then approve their own bills and then the two must resolve the differences between them. After Congress has approved a spending bill, they send it to the President for his signature or veto.

If the budget and appropriations process follows the path described above, there are at least 90 milestones—committee or Floor votes and the President’s signatures—that must be successfully passed before the government can be fully funded. According to the Library of Congress, only 29 of those markers have been completed.

Setting up a way to track the progress of the budget and appropriations process can get a little dicey, since the legislative system is so complex. For simplicity’s sake, we followed the Library of Congress’ tally. But you could track its progress by simply counting the number of bills that have been passed. Or you could go more in depth than we did and include the subcommittee votes and the votes on that the House Rules Committee on the resolutions providing for consideration of the budget and the bills.

However you track the completion of the budget process, it’s undeniable that it is nowhere close to being done the way it should be. The President has not signed a single appropriations bill. But its kind of hard for the President to sign off on appropriations bills when the Senate hasn’t voted on any.

The Senate should not pass the buck – it should pass appropriation bills.

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