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A Piecemeal Approach to Funding the Government Makes No Sense

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH)

SOURCE: AP/J. Scott Applewhite

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) pauses during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, October 8, 2013.

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With the government shutdown now stretching into its second week, the Republican leadership in the House of Representatives has turned to a novel—and ultimately futile—approach for funding the government. Instead of passing a handful of large appropriations bills, as would be done under normal circumstances, or one combined package, as often happens when time is short, the House leadership has been passing very small, targeted appropriations for only a select group of government functions. This approach appears to have political advantages, as supporters can try to alleviate the most noticeable pain of the shutdown. But it is a fundamentally unworkable method for reopening the government. And just one number shows why.

79. That’s how many different appropriations bills the House and Senate would have to pass to fund the full nondefense portion of the federal government, given the rate of funding in the bills passed or announced in the House of Representatives so far.

To date, the House has passed six piecemeal nondefense appropriations bills, with another eight on the docket for sometime this week or soon thereafter. Together, these 14 bills allocate approximately $83.1 billion in funding, for an average of just under $6 billion per bill. The total amount of nondefense funding in the original House-passed continuing resolution was $469.4 billion. Therefore, the House bills that either already passed or are currently under consideration make up less than 18 percent of the total. It would take another 65 bills, each with the average funding amount from the first 14 bills, to finish the job.

And that may be an overly optimistic projection. There are more than 200 separate federal bureaus that received an appropriation of less than $6 billion in 2013. These included the Small Business Administration, the U.S. Geological Survey, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Forest Service, the Food Safety and Inspection Service, the Administration on Aging, the Agricultural Research Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, among many others. Is Congress going to pass a separate bill for each of these activities?

So far, the House of Representatives has passed one or two of these piecemeal funding bills each day. At that rate, it would take another 32 workdays for the House to get through the rest of the funding, and that is assuming an average of $6 billion per bill. If the House chooses instead to continue to fund everything service by service, it will take more than 100 additional workdays to finish, which means the full government will finally be up and running sometime next spring.

The simple fact is that funding the government one operation at a time is neither responsible nor even plausible.

Michael Linden is the Managing Director for Economic Policy at the Center for American Progress.

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