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Congress headed home for its six-week, pre-election break on Sept. 22, after the U.S. Senate voted just past midnight to give final approval to a short-term budget measure that will keep the federal government running for another six months.
The decision to approve a short-term budget fix instead of passing a spending plan for the entire fiscal year that begins Oct. 1 again set off a debate about whether lawmakers were acting irresponsibly.
"We haven’t passed a budget in more than three years and not a single appropriations bill has been brought to the floor this year," U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said in a press release explaining why he voted against the short-term measure.
Corker argued Congress should not be passing the short-term measure, known as a continuing resolution, or any spending bill until it has prioritized how taxpayer dollars are to be spent and at what levels.
"If the Senate can’t perform its most basic responsibilities," Corker said, "I worry about how we’re going to make the tough decisions and do the hard work that will be necessary to get our country on a path to fiscal solvency."
To back up the senator’s claim about congressional inaction on a budget and spending bills, Corker’s office pointed us to two documents compiled by Republicans on the Senate Budget Committee.
The first was a timeline indicating that the last time the Democratic-led Senate passed a budget was on April 29, 2009. The other document was a status report on all 12 of the annual spending bills that provide funding for federal departments and agencies. According to that document, not one of the 12 spending bills has been considered by the full Senate this year.
Corker is not the first Republican to take the Democratic-led Senate to task for failing to pass a budget. PolitiFact and its partners in other states have examined at least five similar claims in the past, and rulings on those have varied because the statements were worded differently.
When statements attempted to pin the blame squarely on just one political party for the inaction, rulings of Half True were given. But in a case where blame was not heaped on just one party, as is the case with Corker’s statement, PolitiFact has gone with True or Mostly True, depending on the wording of the claim.
In any case, each of those statements cited the same date – April 29, 2009 – as the last time a budget had been approved.
An April 26, 2012, item from PolitiFact Ohio explained how the budget process is supposed to work:
Since the passage of the Congressional Budget Act of 1974, the Senate and the House are supposed to pass budget resolutions in the spring. These budget resolutions set a framework for spending, taxation and other fiscal items in the coming fiscal year. They also lay out general plans for the next four years. If these budget resolutions differ, the chambers are supposed to hammer out a compromise.
Budget resolutions are policy plans. They are not appropriations bills, or spending bills, which actually allocate money for specific purposes.
If a budget resolution doesn’t pass, the federal government won’t go dark. In the absence of a budget resolution, appropriations bills have continued to allocate money.
What about Corker’s claim that not a single appropriations bill has been brought to the Senate floor this year?
The U.S. House passed seven of the 12 annual appropriations bills this year and sent them to the Senate for consideration, according to the status report by Republicans on the Senate Budget Committee. The Senate Appropriations Committee also approved 11 of the 12 spending bills and sent them to the full Senate for consideration.
An independent search by PolitiFact via the Library of Congress’ Thomas bill-tracking web site confirmed the figures cited in the GOP report.
But none of the bills approved by the House or the Senate Appropriations Committee were ever brought to the Senate floor for a vote. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who decides which bills will be considered, told reporters on July 10, 2012, that no spending bills were likely to be approved this year because of an ongoing dispute with House Republicans over how much the federal government should spend.
True to his word, Reid so far has not brought any of the annual spending bills to the floor this year, necessitating the short-term budget measure to keep the government running for another six months.
Previous PolitiFact items on claims like this also have brought this perspective -- there have been times when Republicans have been in charge and also have failed to pass a budget.
Our colleagues at PolitiFact Florida report that the House and the Senate had failed to pass a joint budget bill on four other occasions since 1983.
For fiscal year 2003, the Senate, under Democratic control in 2002, failed to pass a budget resolution of any kind. For fiscal years 1999, 2005 and 2007, the House and the Senate failed to reconcile their different bills and pass a compromise measure. In these latter three cases, the Republicans were in the majority in both chambers of Congress.
Sen. Corker says it has been more than three years since Congress passed a budget and that this year, not a single appropriations bill has made it the Senate floor. The record shows that he has his facts straight.
While other Republicans have tried to lay the blame for the lack of a budget at the feet of Democrats, Corker does not specifically apportion blame just one party. He simply chastised the Senate in general for failing to pass a budget and we rate his statement as True.
Bob Corker, press release, Sept. 22, 2012
Senate Budget Committee, budget timeline compiled by GOP members of the committee, May 16, 2012
Senate Budget Committee, Status of Appropriations Bills, compiled by GOP members of committee, Aug. 3, 2012
PolitiFact Ohio, John Boehner says Senate Dems haven’t passed a budget in more than 1,000 days, April 26, 2012
PolitiFact Wisconsin, Democrat-controlled U.S. Senate has gone nearly three years without a budget, GOP Rep. Paul Ryan says, Feb. 2, 2012
PolitiFact, Roemer faults Obama and Congress on budgets, Aug. 5, 2011
PolitiFact Ohio, Sen. Rob Portman says Senate Democrats neglected basic responsibilities by not passing a budget, June 16, 2011
PolitiFact Florida, George LeMieux rips Sen. Bill Nelson for Senate’s budget failure, May 24, 2011
National Journal, Reid: Senate Likely to Punt on Approps Bills Until After Nov., July 10, 2012
Politico, Reid: Spending bills unlikely, July 10, 2012
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