Free Minds & Free Markets

Congress Is Bad at Budgeting

But continuing resolutions aren't the problem.

Congress is dysfunctional—and nothing illustrates that like the body's increased reliance on short-term funding bills in place of comprehensive budgets, right? These continuing resolutions (C.R.s) are often used in times of crisis to prevent a government shutdown when Democrats and Republicans can't agree enough to pass any of the 12 regular appropriations bills before October 1, the beginning of the next fiscal year, as required by the Congressional Budget Act of 1974.

Joanna AndreasssonJoanna AndreasssonYet a look at the data suggests that the number of C.R.s hasn't actually spiked in the last few years. According to the Congressional Research Center, between 1977 and 2018, Congress has enacted an average of 4.4 continuing resolutions per year to keep the government running. While there has been an uptick in their use, it started way back in 1997. Before then, the annual average was 3.3. Since, it has jumped to 5.1. At its worst, Congress passed 13 C.R.s in 1996 and 21 in 2001.

A better measure of congressional dysfunction is the number of regular appropriations bills enacted on time by Congress. That tally has plummeted since 1977 and stalled at zero since 2010, mostly thanks to the Senate. The House of Representatives passed all 12 appropriations bills for fiscal year 2018, for example, only to watch each one die in the upper chamber.

Sources: Congressional Research Service, "Continuing Resolutions: Overview of Components and Recent Practices"; U.S. Congress, "Appropriations for Fiscal Year 2018"

Photo Credit: © Lhfgraphics/

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Jerryskids||

    Congress is bad at budgeting? How would you know? Spending money with little regard for where the money's going or where it's coming from is not budgeting any more than a kid in a candy store is engaged in nutritional planning.

  • Cy||

    I'm just glad Reason posted this. I had no idea!

  • gaoxiaen||

    Water is wet. News at eleven.

  • Inigo Montoya||

    I can think of no other job/profession, no matter how lowly or how elite, that is similar.

    Name another job where someone can simply not perform the basic functions nearly all the time and make disasterous mistakes on the rare occasions they actually complete their work—and not be thrown out on their ass.

    Politicians are the worst.

  • Libertarian||

    What are voters, chopped liver?

  • Longtobefree||

    Pretty much; talked about, but ignored.

  • Ride 'Em||

    No, for the most part voters don't care. Only until a majority of voters care will it change. Way back when Romney and Obama were running I had a discussion with an Obama supporter, he was voting for Obama because Romney was going to raise his taxes. It is why when fiscal responsibility comes up you get one side or the running ads of granny getting thrown off a cliff or soldiers not having enough ammo.

    People only care about what affects them and a lot more politicians are elected who promise increases in benefits than those who say the opposite. Even those who mention fiscal responsibility in their campaigns quickly forget when they are in office. Remember Obama's speech where he said that W was just using a credit card issued by the Bank of China?

  • Earth Skeptic||

    Side show fortune tellers?

  • gaoxiaen||


  • Finrod||

    Homer Simpson at Mr. Burns' nuclear power plant.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    A Constitutional Convention of the States could force Congress' hand in budgetary matters.

    Enact a Constitutional Amendment that requires Congress pass a balanced budget every year, or in time of war a waiver by obtaining a 100% yea vote in the House and Senate. Taxes can only be raised maximum 1% every 10 years, or in time of war by obtaining a 100% yea vote in Congress. Congressional pay is contingent on passing said balanced budget in time of the start of the new fiscal year.

    Also an Amendment that adds a sunset clause on every Congressional bill of 1 year.

  • Leo Kovalensky II||

    For someone who loves a document so much, I wouldn't expect you to want to change it so drastically.

    I don't like the idea of tying budget waivers to war. That's a sure way to ensure perpetual war.
    "Should we declare war on East Asia or stay late and pass this budget?"
    "You fool! We've always been at war with East Asia!"

  • Enjoy Every Sandwich||

    We pretty much have perpetual war, so that loophole would never get closed.

    Even if the "war on terror" were to be declared over, I've little doubt there are other technicalities the politicians would resort to, e.g. I believe we're still officially at war with North Korea (heh I meant "at police action").

  • loveconstitution1789||

    That is why I added the 100% yea vote requirement. In some congressional district in the USA, a lone congressman could be convinced to vote nay and all bets would be off.

  • Enjoy Every Sandwich||

    I hear what you're saying but on this subject...Ron Paul was of a rare breed. I suspect your lone congressman would be made an example of.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Maybe part of the reason why nobody will balls runs for congress is because its so hard to stop a majority rule doing something bad for America.

    This would be another check and balance to modern Congressional excesses.

  • Ride 'Em||

    Isn't that what the debt limit was supposed to do? That was passed during WWI to prevent excess borrowing.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    (1) The debt limit is not a constitutional amendment, so Congress really does not have to pay attention to that law.
    (2) It does not require any special majority of Congress to raise the debt ceiling, which is why it has been raised 75 times since 1962. Mostly by Democrat controlled Congress but split Congresses and GOP controlled Congresses have raised it a bunch too.

  • OldGuy||

    In other news...water is wet.

  • Longtobefree||

    And there is an unconfirmed rumor that the sun will rise in the east tomorrow. But we are not sure when within an hour.

  • Mickey Rat||

    Congress is not bad at budgeting.

    Congress is dishonest at budgeting because way too many people don't want to know that the treasury is not an unlimited pot'o'gold for whatever they want.

  • Enjoy Every Sandwich||

    This. The one sure way to not get reelected is to mention reality.

  • Enjoy Every Sandwich||

    This is another reason why I think it's crazy to consider putting all of health care into the hands of the politicians. Do we really want all funding for medical care to be handled as part of this clusterfuck?

  • Earth Skeptic||

    So, like a drunken teenager on spring break with dad's credit card?

  • sarcasmic||

    In addition the drunken teenager can raise dad's credit limit with a phone call.

  • Longtobefree||

    And Dad is out back drunk in the hammock, and doesn't really care.

  • Johnny B||

    This article misses the whole point of why CR's are bad for society. A CR is a single vote on a multitude of spending issues. Because it has the threat that if it fails, none get funded, it invites members of Congress to logroll, or vote trade. That would be less likely to occur if votes on each part of government spending were done individually, since those who got their spending in the first vote would have an incentive to renege in later votes. By putting all of the votes into a single CR, that problem is solved.

  • ||

    Congress is BAD AT EVERYTHING.
    and they act like SPOILED CHILDREN.

  • Ekke Ekke Ptang Zoo Boing||

    Are you guys paid flat rate per article?


Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online