Ah-h-h-h! We've avoided another government shutdown. At least that's the hope — who knows for sure, these days? Even if the government doesn't shut down, Congress' track record on fiscal responsibility is abysmal. The dodging of a shutdown is being achieved via a stopgap funding bill, a continuing resolution that allows the government to operate even though no budget for fiscal year 2012 has been passed. FY2012 begins Saturday!
This is nothing new. Congress routinely fails to pass a budget before the new fiscal year begins. So year after year, no matter which party controls Capitol Hill or 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, the federal government survives through special measures forced upon Congress because it has failed to pass a budget. Federal fiscal years used to begin on July 1, but Congress said it needed just a little more time, so Congress changed the start of the fiscal year to Oct. 1. (I was a federal employee in Washington, D.C., at the time of that 15-month transitional fiscal year in the early 1970s.) It has done no good. Congress is no better at passing the budget by Oct. 1 than it was at passing a budget by July 1. When you consider that passing a budget is, arguably, the single most important task of Congress every year, that's a sorry track record.
My suggestion is this: Pass a law that cuts off the salary and expense accounts of all members of Congress when a comprehensive budget is not passed by the beginning of the fiscal year. Continuing resolutions or stopgap funding won't count; it has to be a full budget — the main job constituents sent them to Washington to do. Otherwise, their pay is cut to zero until the day both houses of Congress pass the entire budget for the fiscal year and the president signs it.
I think this proposal might give members of Congress some incentive to get their jobs done.