In the age of procrastination and irresponsible spending in Washington, continuing resolutions have become a comfortable fall back for Congress. Instead of buckling down, skipping the archaic breaks, and getting spending bills done in time for measured debate, lawmakers look to last-minute, stop gap measures to fund the federal government. The last time Congress was able to maintain regular operations without a continuing resolution was in 1996—two decades ago.
I’ve said before that continuing resolutions are a short-sighted and irresponsible way to fund important programs, but I want to talk a little bit about why I believe it’s time for Congress to move past the age of governing by crisis.
1. Continuing Resolutions Affect Military Capabilities and Hurt our Armed Forces.
Our armed forces are full of men and women who have learned to do the best they can with what they have. In the military world, there is no such thing as the word “can’t.” But the reality is that—with yet another continuing resolution—we’re asking our troops to take on more risk with fewer training hours, longer deployment times, and equipment that is outdated and unreliable. Just yesterday, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said that a long-term continuing resolution would “limit training and readiness accounts across the board for the total force.” In the context of national security, stop gap measures deplete our forces, prevent planning, and can cost lives.
2. Continuing Resolutions Create Economic Uncertainty and Job Insecurity.
The government has a spending problem. We all know it. And continuing resolutions exacerbate that problem. The CR rules prevent agencies from recruiting or hiring new staff and implementing new programs (even necessary ones, like transportation projects), AND they prevent departments from cutting programs that are wasting taxpayer money. Never mind all the manpower and paid time that goes into planning for multiple budget scenarios. Stop gap measures kick the can down the road, create uncertainty for agencies and employers, and negatively impact communities and families.
3. Continuing Resolutions Allow for Arbitrary Spending Levels and Political Favoritism.
If the continuing resolution has a handmaiden, it’s the backroom deal. As public servants, we’re supposed to be responsible stewards of taxpayer money, and that means that we need an open and transparent process. It means we need time for measured and deliberate debate. That’s the way our system was designed, and that’s the way it’s supposed to work. Instead, deals are cut behind closed doors, and the public is left entirely in the dark. Allocations are made for pet projects, and loopholes let certain actors “skirt the rules.”
4. Continuing Resolutions Foster Partisanship and Political Bickering.
The continuing resolution is the quintessential “must pass” legislation. It’s the reason that everyone starts shouting “government shutdown” in late September, and it’s the reason that the government does occasionally come screeching to a halt. The fact is that both political parties use the continuing resolution as a vehicle for other, often politically divisive measures. Ultimately, continuing resolutions end up looking like a kind of legislative Frankenstein: lots of unrelated measures stitched together without any real deliberation, debate, or consideration.
5. Continuing Resolutions Promote a Culture of Complacency in Congress.
I’m talking about timeliness, I’m talking about discipline, and I’m talking about accountability. Why would Congress get things done on time when it can always fall back on a continuing resolution? What motivation does Congress have to get better? I’ve asked the Speaker to keep Congress in session over August recess, and I’ve sponsored legislation to prevent Members of Congress from being paid if they fail to pass a budget and get through the spending bills on time. But every Member of Congress is responsible to his or her constituents. We have a Constitutional obligation to do the people’s work here in Congress, and continuing resolutions represent a complete abdication of that responsibility.