FACT CHECK: Has Congress Only Passed Four Budgets On Time In The Past 40 Years?

Christine Sellers | Fact Check Reporter

In a speech delivered at Saint Anselm College’s New Hampshire Institute of Politics, 2024 presidential hopeful and former South Carolina Republican Gov. Nikki Haley claimed Congress has only passed four budgets on time in the past 40 years.

Verdict: True

While defining what constitutes the congressional budget process is complicated, three experts have labeled Haley’s claim as correct.

Fact Check:

Haley visited Saint Anselm College’s New Hampshire Institute of Politics back in September, according to CNN. During her visit, Haley unveiled her economic policy and discussed “Bidenomics” and “reckless” government spending, the outlet reported.

“Congress won’t like this tough love, but they need it. In the past 40 years, Congress has passed a pathetic four budgets on time. Four in forty years,” Haley said during the speech. A clip of Haley making the claim about the Congressional budget during her speech was shared via her X account on Nov. 30, where it received over 70,000 views.

The claim is true. According to a September 2023 piece from the Pew Research Center, “Congress has passed all of its required appropriations measures on time only four times [in] fiscal 1977, 1989, 1995, and 1997.” In the piece, the Pew Research Center also points out that Congress was late in passing its “budget blueprint” in the latter three years. The budget blueprint precedes the spending bills.

In addition, a document from the United States Senate Committee on the Budget from the 115th Congress indicates Congress has “completed appropriations before the start of the fiscal year only four times in the past 40 years.” The last time Congress completed all bills on time was in 1996, according to page five of the same document. Congress only adopted seven budgets in the previous fiscal years, in 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2016, the same document indicates.

Similarly, a 2018 report from the Government Accountability Office highlighting Budget Issues states Congress has passed continuing resolutions to keep government agencies running between budgets “in all but four of the last 40 years.”

Alternatively, a 2014 Q&A piece from the Peter G. Peterson Foundation claims Congress has passed the budget on time just six times in the past 40 years with the most recent instance being in 2003. (RELATED: Joe Biden Repeats False Story About Deceased Amtrak Conductor) 

According to the same September 2023 piece from the Pew Research Center, the appropriations process typically does not follow what is outlined in the Congressional Budget Act of 1974. The process typically begins with the president submitting a budget proposal, the House and Senate working on a budget resolution (or a deeming resolution if they can’t come to an agreement on a budget resolution), and Congress then passing a series of appropriations bills.

Because Congress usually doesn’t pass its 12 appropriations bills on time, it then uses continuing resolutions and omnibus bills, which cover several appropriations.

Following the passing of its last three appropriations bills for fiscal 1997 on Sept. 30, 1996, “Congress has never passed more than five of its 12 regular appropriations bills on time, the Pew Research Center indicated.

A document from the Congressional Research Service outlining the congressional budget process timeline indicates the Budget Act sets April 15 as the target date for adopting a budget resolution.  Congress has only adopted a budget resolution prior to the April 15 target date on four occasions since fiscal year 1985, with the most recent being fiscal year 2004, according to the same document.

In addition to making the claim during her remarks at Saint Anselm College’s New Hampshire Institute of Politics, Haley also made the claim during the second Republican debate of the 2024 campaign cycle. The New York Times included the claim in a fact-check article about the debate and labeled the claim as correct.

Romina Boccia, director of budget and entitlement policy at the Cato Institute, told Check Your Fact that Haley’s claim was correct with respect to Congress passing all of its appropriations bills in full and on time.

“The federal budget process is so convoluted that we could argue over what the meaning of passing a budget is. In this case, Haley is on point with respect to Congress passing all the required appropriations bills in full and on-time only four times: fiscal 1977, 1989, 1995 and 1997. Some call this the government budget since it covers the discretionary spending that legislators vote on each year. Haley is also correct if we consider that Congress has adopted a budget resolution prior to the deadline of April 15 only four times,” Boccia said in an email.

“The consequences are a less effective, more expensive government that wastes taxpayer dollars and burdens current and future generations with massive debt. No budget, no pay may sound gimmicky and it also just might work,” she added.

Maya MacGuineas, the president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, agreed that Haley is “spot on” with her claim.

“Governor Haley is spot on, Congress has only passed a budget on time four times in the past 40 years. It is a huge abdication of responsibility as the first step in governing is to put a budget in place. This year the Senate Budget Committee didn’t even bother to try,” MacGuineas said.

Richard Stern, Director of the Grover M. Hermann Center for the Federal Budget at The Heritage Foundation, also labeled Haley’s claim as correct but highlighted the fact that there is more nuance at play.

“What she’s talking about is correct but with more nuance than what she gave. What she said is likely shorthand for a more complicated statement–Congress and the White House have only completed every touchpoint for the budget process since the budget process was created,” Stern said.

Ben Ritz, the Director of the Progressive Policy Institute’s Center for Funding America’s Future, said whether or not the claim is correct depends on what Haley means by “passing a budget.”

“It depends on what Gov. Haley means by ‘passing a budget.’ Congress is required to pass a budget resolution that sets top-line targets by April 15th each year, which has happened 7 times in the past 40 years. So Haley is technically wrong,” Ritz said.

“But subsequently, Congress is required to pass 12 appropriations bills funding ‘discretionary’ programs (those which have funding levels re-evaluated annually) by October 1st – that has only happened on time four times in the past 40 years,” he added.

Check Your Fact has also contacted the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities for comment and will update this piece accordingly if one is received. In addition, Check Your Fact contacted the Brookings Institution, who declined to comment.

Christine Sellers

Fact Check Reporter