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When was the last time the US Congress passed a true annual budget, in one or several installments, that was signed by the President? In recent memory the practice has been to pass a series of "continuing resolutions" which as I understand are more of a temporary measure to authorize additional unbudgeted borrowing until a budget can be passed.

Clarification: When was a single appropriation bill last passed, or multiple installments together, covering the entire federal government for one entire fiscal year?

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    Congress passes its budget as a joint resolution. That budget is never signed by the president. Continuing resolutions are about appropriations (spending), which must be signed by the president.
    – Rick Smith
    Commented Jan 26, 2023 at 17:00
  • But I seem to remember plenty of news stories from years ago, I think under Clinton, where the President would threaten to veto the budget unless certain things were in it.
    – wberry
    Commented Jan 26, 2023 at 17:47
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    It appears that I was mistaken about the "joint resolution". It is actually a "concurrent resolution". There was a time when 12 separate appropriations measures were considered, but for FY2023 an "omnibus appropriations bill" was used. Are you referring to the last time the separate appropriations bills were passed?
    – Rick Smith
    Commented Jan 26, 2023 at 17:51
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    The Congressional Appropriations Process: An Introduction discusses the process from budget to appropriations. Although appropriations are subject to the Congressional Budget Act, there is no "annual budget bill" to be signed by the president.
    – Rick Smith
    Commented Jan 26, 2023 at 18:04
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    The Role of the President in Budget Development: In Brief "The Constitution does not provide an explicit role for the President in the budget process." I am going to go with -- it has never been the case that a president has approved (signed) a Congressional budget. The president does submit a proposed budget.
    – Rick Smith
    Commented Jan 26, 2023 at 18:46

2 Answers 2

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Q: When was a single appropriation bill last passed, or multiple installments together, covering the entire federal government for one entire fiscal year?

It appears that FY1997 was the last time everything was completed before the start of a fiscal year. While the following is from 2016, congress.gov shows the use of continuing resolutions in subsequent years.

From The Congressional Appropriations Process: An Introduction:

In only four instances since FY1977 (FY1977, FY1989, FY1995, and FY1997) were all regular appropriations enacted by the start of the fiscal year. In all other instances, at least one CR was necessary to fund governmental activities until action on the remaining regular appropriations bills was completed.

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  • In only four instances since FY1977... that's incredible!
    – M. Y. Zuo
    Commented Jan 31, 2023 at 19:03
  • Speakers for those years: Carl Albert (D), James Claude Wright, Jr (D), Thomas Foley (D), Newt Gingrich (R).
    – wberry
    Commented Jan 31, 2023 at 21:52
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Short Attention Span Version:

President submits a budget. Congress breaks it into a dozen different allocations, passes them as a joint legislative bill that the president signs into law or vetoes.

Congressional Page Version:

I'll try to summarize and "colorize" the document that Rick Smith submitted on Congressional Appropriations. It was an interesting read, surprisingly short for something relating to congress - less than 1000 pages. Thank you, Rick. Please feel free to correct, add to or denigrate this summary entirely.

  • The fiscal year starts 1-Oct, but on Feb-1 the process starts when the president submits a budget to Congress. Here is the link for the Presidential Budget for 2022:

  • The presidential budget does not include, I don't believe, requests for programs and departments that are already founded and promised funding in previous years, even though that money will come out of the budget for the year.

  • The House and Senate Appropriations committees handle the money, debate and modify the presidential budget. Twelve sub-committees govern twenty different areas of spending: defense, agriculture, infrastructure, agencies etc. Subcommittees are given a spending 'ceiling' (which they ignore, as one does when spending someone else's money) and prepare recommendations on allocation, including pre-allocated money from previous legislation(?). The target date 15-Apr is frequently missed. Typically each of these is passed separately, but may be combined into an omnibus bill.

  • Each appropriation bill must authorize spending over the span of the next five years (many programs last longer than a single year), but mostly is focused on spending for the next year. If the measure is likely to be vetoed, it is sometimes buried in more essential legislation.

  • There are many exceptions, loopholes and patches to the official process. Continuing resolutions are one of those - they are needed if a budget is not passed by 1-Oct, the beginning of the new fiscal year.

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