The Corner

Budget Limbo

David Ignatius in his column this morning frets about how “continuing resolutions” (temporary budget extensions passed to keep the government going while Congress tries to write a budget) are a nuisance to federal employees and a problem for many recipients of federal funds. Such CRs have been a nearly permanent fixture of the budget process for about three decades, although this year’s budget process has been more dysfunctional than most: For the first time in more than twenty years, Congress has not sent the President a single budget bill at the beginning of November—a month into the fiscal year for which they’re supposedly writing the budget.

But Ignatius fails to note that the federal government has in fact been operating on a continuing resolution for a lot longer than a month. The Congress never actually passed a budget for the last fiscal year either. Republicans dragged their feet on all the budget bills except Defense and Homeland Security in 2006, and when they took control this January the Democrats decided to just give up on the rest of the budget and pass a year long continuing resolution.

And you know what? It’s not so bad. Without intending it, the Democrats actually passed a fairly disciplined pseudo-budget. They did it as a political ploy to give themselves time to pass an undisciplined budget this year. But the time seems (thankfully) to have been wasted, and the question arises: why not just pass another year-long CR that, like the last one, grows the government only a little and keeps earmarks and new spending to a minimum? As my colleague Jim Capretta and I asked in the Weekly Standard in February, why not just junk the crazy budget process altogether and make this the new norm? That would remove the sense of impermanence or limbo that makes CR’s a problem now, and would limit the countless temptations for recklessness that the existing budget process seems designed to produce.

David Ignatius might not like it, but surely that’s a price worth paying.

Yuval Levin is the director of social, cultural, and constitutional studies at the American Enterprise Institute and the editor of National Affairs.

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