Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search

No budget? No problem! The strange politics behind a budgetless America.

President Obama has proposed a federal budget. Congress looks sure to ignore it, and Senate Democrats show no desire to pass any budget. It would be the fourth straight budgetless year. 

By Staff writer / February 14, 2012

Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky, pictured here on Capitol Hill Tuesday, has seen President Obama's fiscal 2013 federal budget plan, and he doesn't like it.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP



Seeking to avoid a politically toxic vote, Congress has failed to pass a federal budget for three years. This year's new twist? Congress might not even try.

Skip to next paragraph

On Monday, President Obama presented his proposed budget for fiscal year 2013. It's going nowhere on Capitol Hill, legislators and political analysts agree. What's more, Senate Democratic leaders show no intention of presenting their own budget proposals – or taking up any lobbed over from House Republicans. 

Technically, they don't have to, Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D) of Nevada said on Feb. 3. He suggested that the terms of last summer’s debt-ceiling agreement provide all the guidance that Congress needs for the coming fiscal year. 

Indeed, with three mammoth spending measures – the Bush-tax cuts, the payroll-tax holiday, and automatic spending cuts triggered by the debt-ceiling deal – that must be settled by Dec. 31, most likely by the lame-duck session of Congress after the November elections, there is little appetite among members to expend political capital now on a budget.

The cost, say analysts, is that Congress is once again allowing the federal budget process to remain rudderless and lawmakers unaccountable as the nation lurches toward fiscal crisis.

“Congress is legally required to consider a budget resolution every year, but there’s no penalty for not doing it, and no one has any standing to sue,” says Stan Collender, a longtime congressional budget analyst with Qorvis Communications in Washington.

Historically, the job of proposing and approving a budget has been a crucial one for the Congress. While actual line-by-line spending decisions are made later, during the appropriations process, the budget is the one federal document that lays out a vision for the nation's finances. It is designed to be the moment when Congress takes a hard look at the books and makes sound plans for America's fiscal future.

The lack of a budget plan for the past three years has exacerbated America's fiscal problems because, for three years, Congress has not passed a roadmap to bring spiraling deficits under control. 

Mr. Obama has made proposals that have been ignored. House Republicans actually passed a budget last year – the plan constructed by Rep. Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin that sought to rein in entitlements and bring down deficits. But it failed to pass the Senate, and Republicans took a huge political hit for the severity of Congressman Ryan's proposals.


Read Comments

View reader comments | Comment on this story

  • Weekly review of global news and ideas
  • Balanced, insightful and trustworthy
  • Subscribe in print or digital

Special Offer


Doing Good


What happens when ordinary people decide to pay it forward? Extraordinary change...

Danny Bent poses at the starting line of the Boston Marathon in Hopkinton, Mass.

After the Boston Marathon bombings, Danny Bent took on a cross-country challenge

The athlete-adventurer co-founded a relay run called One Run for Boston that started in Los Angeles and ended at the marathon finish line to raise funds for victims.

Become a fan! Follow us! Google+ YouTube See our feeds!