Why we need a 2023 budget deal right now — and how to get it

The president recently signed into law the 2022 Consolidated Appropriations Act, which funds the federal government through Sept. 30, 2022. The more than $1.5 trillion package includes $782 billion for defense and $730 billion for non-defense programs. The 2,700-page legislation is a bipartisan compromise, passed by wide margins in both chambers of Congress. 

Even though it took six months into the fiscal year to get to this common ground, the fact that it happened provides government officials with an agreed-upon framework for funding our government. So, why not use a framework that the current Congress and administration agree to as the baseline for fiscal year 2023 appropriations, with the goal of having no continuing resolution for 2023? That gives Congress and the administration six months to fund the government on time — an accomplishment that rarely has happened in the past 20 years. 

With a war in Europe, record inflation, and midterm elections looming, an on-time, bipartisan 2023 budget would go a long way toward signaling American unity, resolve and strength at home and abroad. Why would both parties want to get this done now? Democrats, who currently control Congress, may not be able to do so after the midterms, according to polls. So, Democrats probably hold the most leverage they are going to have for the next several years and getting higher non-defense spending appropriated should be a priority for them. For Republicans, getting both higher defense spending and an on-time appropriation for defense has to be a priority as war rages in Ukraine.

Because the Biden administration has yet to roll out their 2023 budget, there is a window of opportunity. The best way to a quick agreement is for the Office of Management and Budget to immediately get together with the congressional leadership and cut a spending deal for both non-defense and defense funding. The easiest path would be to take the formula for 2022 and paste it into 2023: provide the non-defense part of the budget with an increase of 6.7 percent (same as the 2022 increase) to $778.9 billion, and defense with a 5.6 percent increase (same increase as in 2022) to $825.8 billion.

Because there is so little time, this works only if the numbers between Congress and the administration’s request match up. The administration is six weeks late in submitting the budget and is likely to submit it almost two months late. In addition, Congress will be out of session most of the summer, as members campaign for the midterms. 

In its request to Congress for the 2022 budget, the administration chose to submit a very large increase for non-defense programs and a very small increase for defense programs. This is one of the reasons it took Congress six months to produce a bipartisan compromise appropriation — one that provided a more balanced increase in funding for both non-defense and defense programs. The White House should take the high ground for its 2023 budget submission, with a budget that mirrors the 2022 appropriation rather than President Biden’s submission. 

Given the six months remaining before the start of 2023, any major deviation between the request and the recent appropriation almost certainly will lead to another long continuing resolution — this time with a war in Europe ongoing, high inflation, and a new Congress that will be seated.

For Congress, passing the 2023 appropriation on time works only if all the agreed-upon policy provisions in 2022 carry forward into 2023. The term “budget appropriation” doesn’t properly convey the amount of policy fights each year that determine what is or isn’t included. Most of them are non-defense issues because defense policy issues are resolved in the annual National Defense Authorization Act.

Since Congress no longer passes each appropriation bill as a standalone bill, controversial policy issues such as the Hyde amendment, which precludes the use of federal funds for abortions, for example, are included and fought over in “must-pass” omnibus appropriations. If members of Congress want to campaign in their districts and fund the government on time for 2023, they have to accept all policy compromises made in the 2022 appropriations.

Elected officials in Congress and the executive branch have until Sept. 30 to show the American people — and the world — that they can accomplish one of the basic duties of governance: fund the government. The clock is ticking, and the stars are aligned, but an important question remains: Will the administration take the lead, forge a deal and resist using the budget as a political statement of “wants”? If the White House believes it might lose control of one or both chambers in Congress, this proposal might be the best deal it can get.

Retired Maj. Gen. John G. Ferrari is a nonresident senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a former director of program analysis and evaluation for the U.S. Army.

Tags 2022 midterms Appropriations bill Continuing resolution Defense spending Government budgets Joe Biden

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