Skip to content
Subscriber Only

The High Cost of Congress's Budget Procrastination

When lawmakers are wishy-washy, taxpayers lose millions
The High Cost of Congress's Budget Procrastination
Photo illustration by Alis Atwell

Washington will probably stop short of letting the U.S. go over the fiscal cliff on Jan. 1, most likely with a temporary fix and a promise to work out a budget in the near future. That would only exacerbate a long-standing problem for the country: Procrastination has a price tag.

Since 1952, according to the Congressional Research Service, Congress has completed its spending bills by its own deadlines only four times—in 1977, 1989, 1995, and 1997. Year after year, lawmakers enact continuing resolutions to tide agencies over until appropriations bills pass. Fiscal year 2011—all 365 days of it—was paid for this way. Though a hyperpartisan year on Capitol Hill, it was by no means exceptional. According to the CRS, 178 days every year, on average, have been funded through continuing resolutions since 1977. Basically, half the time there is no budget.