Should Lawmakers Lead by Example and Stay in Session to Finish the Budget?

Should Lawmakers Lead by Example and Stay in Session to Finish the Budget?
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Imagine a mass formation of servicemembers, on an afternoon before a holiday, with a leader up front about to provide some motivation:


Listen Up! No one is going home until maintenance is complete, the motor pool is swept, and we have 100% accountability of equipment. Work as a team and report back.”  


Most servicemembers have experienced a version of this formation, although with different tasks or circumstances – a lost pair of night vision goggles at the National Training Center, for example – serving as forcing functions.


Nothing motivates servicemembers as much as time. Although no one likes mass punishment, taking time away from members of a large formation – “No one is going home until …” – creates significant peer pressure and fosters teamwork to accomplish a difficult task.


When it comes to the difficult task of funding the federal government, Congress could take some hints from the multiplying effect of unit cohesion over individuality. It is failing in its mission by not passing a budget on time year after year – the result of an ongoing administrative problem nursed by both parties and both chambers.

Ask Your Lawmakers to Finish the Appropriations Process]


The stopgap solution, at least in most years over the last half a century, has been to revert to very wasteful continuing resolutions to buy time at the expense of the taxpayers, including our deployed servicemembers and their families.


So …


Should Congress Cancel Christmas Break?

Of course, no one wants to cancel a holiday vacation, especially Christmas break, but a clear pattern has emerged and Congress is not in session for enough days to meet its own deadlines. An administrative review should take a hard look at placing some deadlines for summer recess – no budget, no vacation, and plenty of time to spare before the end of the fiscal year.


[RELATED: Understanding the Unseen Costs of a Continuing Resolution]


Canceling recess, upending travel, and requiring Congress to stay in session may be called for. It is not a new idea, but it would require a change in rules and could be painful for lawmakers. Members of the House of Representatives and Senate have significant demands for their time that take away from the legislative process such as visiting with constituents, conducting oversight of the federal government, and, of course, fundraising.


As we approach a highly contentious election year, fundraising and shoring up support from constituents take the focus off critical legislation, like passing the appropriations bills.


[RELATED: JCS Chair Warns of Stark Consequences Brought by a Yearlong Stopgap Budget]


Previous (and unpopular) legislation such as the No Budget, No Recess Act (H.R. 1059| S. 186) in 2019 and the older No Budget, No Pay Act (H.R. 310 | S. 124) did not become law, and the Prevent Government Shutdowns Act of 2023 (H.R. 5696 | S. 135) has not gained traction. These failed attempts may have had the right sentiment; a refined approach may help solve this nonpartisan administrative problem.


A Holiday Reminder

This Christmas break, rather than sending a lump of coal to your lawmakers, consider recruiting your network of friends and family to join MOAA’s Legislative Action Center and ask your House members and senators for the leadership to fix the costly problem of not passing appropriations on time.


You can also share MOAA’s Capitol Hotline – 866-272-MOAA (6622), a toll-free line to the U.S. Capitol switchboard – to help connect your friends with their legislators’ offices.


Consider asking your elected officials to lead the effort to reform the rules and ensure Congress passes appropriations before summer recess next year. You do not need to be a MOAA member to join the action center, and hearing from constituents has heightened importance for upcoming elections.


For more information on our advocacy initiatives, please visit MOAA’s Advocacy News page.


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About the Author

Lt. Col. Mark Belinsky, USA (Ret)
Lt. Col. Mark Belinsky, USA (Ret)

Belinsky retired in 2019 after serving 22 years, with overseas tours to Afghanistan, Iraq, the Republic of Korea, and Germany. He joined the MOAA team in 2019 as Director, Currently Serving and Retired Affairs.