The Broken Budget & Appropriations Process

Across the political spectrum, virtually everyone agrees that our nation’s budget and appropriations process is broken and badly in need of reform. The current system has continuously failed to fund the government in an orderly or timely manner and has put the sustainability of our nation’s fiscal future at risk.

Rising National Debt

The budget process has been ineffective at controlling spending – particularly on the mandatory side of the ledger – and the national debt has eclipsed $21 trillion. Today, debt held by the public has reached a staggering 78 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects it will continue to grow, reaching a massive 152 percent of GDP by 2048. Mandatory spending consumed 69 percent of the federal budget in FY 2018 and is projected to consume 77 percent of the federal budget by 2028.

Failure to Meet Key Deadlines

Funding the government has become a major challenge for Congress. Congress has failed to follow regular order since fiscal year 1995[1] — the last time Congress passed a conference report on the budget resolution followed by passage of thirteen separate appropriations bills before the beginning of the new fiscal year.[2] As a result, continuing resolutions (CRs) have become the status quo for funding the Federal Government. Between 1977-2017, Congress enacted 176 CRs.  These stopgap measures not only delay Congress’s ability to make policy decisions for the upcoming fiscal year, but they also create uncertainty for federal agencies and the American people. If the government fails to pass annual appropriations or a CR, the result is a government shutdown. There have been 19 government shutdowns since 1977, with two in the 115th Congress alone. Shutdowns inflict severe damage and uncertainty on the nation’s economy.

Reforming the Process

While Congress has attempted to reform the budget and appropriations process in the past, it has failed to find bipartisan, bicameral consensus on measures to effectively reduce the debt and uniformly fund the government. Fortunately, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 established a bipartisan, bicameral Joint Select Committee on Budget and Appropriations Process Reform (JSCBAPR) on February 9, 2018.[3] The JSCBAPR, comprised of 16 members equally divided between the House and Senate, has worked throughout the year to consider and develop recommendations to “significantly reform the budget and appropriations process.”[4]

On Thursday, the JSCBAPR will complete its work by marking up and reporting out its recommendations to improve the budget and appropriations process ahead of its November 30 statutory deadline.[5]


[1] Grant A. Driessen, The Federal Budget: Overview and Issues for FY2019 and Beyond, Congressional Research Service, May 21, 2018.

[2] Id.

[3] Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, P.L. 115-123 (2018).

[4] Id.

[5] Id.


Printable PDF