No Government Shutdown is a Low Bar

The House, the Senate, and President Obama agreed on something. Surprised?


Technically, they agreed to agree on something in the future. Several weeks ago, leaders of the House and Senate announced they’re planning to pass a continuing resolution in September in order to fund the federal government past Sept. 30, which is the last day of fiscal year 2012. If lawmakers don’t pass any spending legislation by that date, the government will shut down on Oct. 1 when fiscal 2013 begins. So, the good news is there won’t be a government shutdown. That’s a good thing, but it’s a really low bar.

Instead of passing a continuing resolution – which is a temporary spending bill – Congress instead should be crafting appropriations bills in the appropriations process. That’s how federal budgeting is supposed to work. Governing by continuing resolution is an abdication of responsibility. But perhaps you’re thinking, what difference does it make?

It makes a big difference. When Congress spends months crafting appropriations bills, that means there’s opportunity for input and oversight from every member of Congress, who collectively represent every person in this country. That gives regular people like you and me the opportunity to follow what’s happening and to contact our representatives about our priorities.

But when lawmakers instead simply write and pass a continuing resolution over a few days in September, there’s no opportunity for constituent input. It even cuts out most members of Congress, since it’s the leadership of both parties that get together to hammer out a deal. That's especially astonishing when you consider the amount of money at stake; lawmakers said the continuing resolution will set out a discretionary budget of $1.047 trillion for fiscal 2013. That's a lot of money being spent without much input from the people or their representatives.

Doesn’t sound much like democracy to me. So what should we do about it? For starters, contact your representatives. If more and more members of Congress know that we’re paying attention and we’re angry our government is operating without transparency or citizen input, that’s a good start.

Check out for more about “The Debate(s) That Won’t Happen.”