Effective government requires regular budgets

Show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value. It’s a common refrain of President Biden.

In 2020, the American people sent a new administration and a new Congress to Washington and set new priorities and values for the government through their vote. But nearly a year and a half later, the people’s government is still operating under the budget of the previous administration — under the values and priorities of the previous administration.

Why? Because obstructionists in Congress have thus-far prevented efforts to perform a basic function of the legislative branch and fund the government, forcing a series of continuing resolutions that keep funding priorities frozen in the past and agencies scrambling to prepare for a government shutdown every time one of these temporary funding measures expires.

So what does this mean to the average citizen? Operating under a continuing resolution means costly delays in building new hospitals and medical centers to serve our nation’s veterans. It means our military operations and readiness are suffering because the Department of Defense is operating at lower-than-proposed funding levels while significant funding remains “misaligned, trapped or frozen in the wrong places and unusable because we don’t have the tools or flexibility to realign funds,” as Defense Comptroller Michael McCord told lawmakers in January.

It means no new money for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to invest in our country’s public health system amid a global pandemic. No increase in Title I funding for low-income schools. No additional spending on climate change initiatives and projects to improve the energy efficiency of homes, schools, and federal buildings.

Likewise, the Biden administration’s proposed investments to curb gun violence, house the homeless and victims of domestic violence, and research diseases like cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s are stalled.

The prospect of a full-year continuing resolution — something some conservative lawmakers have advocated — would have even more dire consequences.

The Department of Veterans Affairs, for example, would see its proposed discretionary spending shrink by $1.8 billion — which would mean less money to meet veterans’ health care needs, conduct vital research into issues such as traumatic brain injury and toxic exposure, and address veteran homelessness issues.

“Without that funding there’s real risk that we would not be able to make full payments to veterans for compensation and pension requirements through September 2022,” VA Secretary Denis McDonough told reporters in December.

Even if Congress passes full-year appropriations tomorrow, the uncertainty of having enough money to carry out core functions — coupled with the possibility of yet another government shutdown — has provided a needless distraction for agencies that should be focused on delivering services to the American people.

And the wasteful delay in approving this year’s budget means months of lost opportunity in researching new technologies, scientific advancements, and other developments that will mean a better future for all of us. President Biden’s fiscal 2022 budget proposed the nation’s largest single increase in non-defense federal research and development spending, yet with nearly half a year behind us, the administration’s goal of kickstarting a new wave of scientific innovation is stuck on the drawing board.

I believe that everyone values a government that defends our nation and our democracy, fulfills our promises to our veterans and seniors, and helps us prepare for the future by ensuring that we make the very best use of innovations in science and technology. At a minimum, that requires Congress to do its job with regular, full-year appropriations.

Everett Kelley is national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO, which represents 700,000 federal and D.C. government employees.

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