National News

Q-and-A on the News

Posted January 31, 2018 1:50 p.m. EST

Q: When was the last time Congress actually passed the official budget instead of a continuing resolution?

-- Richard Criswell, Monroe, Ga.

A: The recent government shutdown is a reminder that Congress often relies on continuing resolutions to fund certain government operations.

There is a difference, however, between Congress passing an official budget resolution -- which it did for the 2018 fiscal year in October 2017 -- and enacting appropriations, or spending, bills to fund that budget.

Under the 1974 Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act, the president submits a budget proposal and the House and Senate are expected to adopt their own budget resolution by April 15 each year. The budget acts as a guide in the appropriations process, which funds about 30 percent of all federal spending but does not cover mandatory spending including Social Security and Medicare.

According to the nonpartisan Pew Research Center, that April 15 deadline is frequently missed, putting Congress behind in enacting spending bills before the next fiscal year begins on Oct. 1.

"In the four decades since the current system for budgeting and spending tax dollars has been in effect, Congress has managed to pass all its required appropriations measures on time only four times: in fiscal 1977 (the first full fiscal year under the current system), 1989, 1995 and 1997," the Pew Center writes.

When Congress fails to enact spending bills on time, it may pass continuing resolutions to temporarily maintain funding for the federal government's discretionary spending programs, usually at the programs' previous level of spending.

Q: Recently on TV, they have commented on the high amount of energy used in bitcoin money transactions. Some examples used were the same as a large city or a small country's consumption of energy. I thought computer energy use was very small. Is that true? If so, why is the bitcoin energy use so high versus other transactions of money?

-- Allen Trent, Canton, Ga.

A: Very little energy is used in making bitcoin transactions with previously mined bitcoins, William Lastrapes, an economics professor at the University of Georgia's Terry College of Business, told Q-and-A on the News via email.

"When I exchange bitcoins from my bitcoin 'wallet' with a retailer -- who accepts these coins into his or her 'wallet' -- in exchange for goods, the energy usage is very small and no different from any other electronic transaction made on the internet -- like using your bank's online bill pay," Lastrapes wrote.

He said the process of "mining" for new bitcoins uses "massive amounts of energy." To generate new bitcoins, "miners" must solve complicated math problems -- and in the process verify blocks of bitcoin transactions -- which requires a lot of computer processor time and, thus, a lot of energy.

"Once bitcoins are mined, however, their use as a means of payment for goods and services requires no excess energy usage," he wrote.

Q: Please settle an argument. I listen to Sirius XM's '50s on 5, which an oldies station. I say the singers and musicians featured on the channel are not the original artists, but my son-in-law says they are. Who's correct?

-- Ron Minafo, Buford, Ga.

A: Sirius XM's '50s on 5 station only features songs recorded by their original artists, Patrick Reilly, Sirius XM's senior vice president of corporate communications, told Q-and-A on the News.

Reilly added that the channel exclusively plays the original hit version of each track, regardless of whether or not the artist had later re-recorded or updated the song.

Q: We have been watching the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne, Australia, where the broadcast is 16 hours ahead of Atlanta time. If the Earth takes 24 hours to turn on its axis, how can any one place be more than 12 hours ahead of us?

-- Connie Cowden, Hoschton, Ga.

A: Mark Lancaster, an astronomer with Fernbank Science Center, explains it this way: Think of the Earth as divided into 24 time zones. Use Greenwich, England, as the starting point, because it is located on the prime meridian, where the Earth's 0 degree longitude line passes.

If it is 10 p.m. on Jan. 31 in Greenwich, it is 5 p.m. in Atlanta; so Atlanta is five hours -- and five time zones -- behind Greenwich Mean Time. Melbourne, Australia, is 11 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time, making it 9 a.m. on Feb. 1, thus the 16-hour time difference, he explains.

Lancaster said it gets confusing because Americans split our clocks into two 12-hour periods, instead of one 24-hour time period (also known as military time). It becomes more confusing during the months that the United States is under daylight saving time, because daylight saving time is not recognized worldwide.

Q: I believe most of the international airports around the U.S. are totally non-smoking. Why does (Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport) have smoking rooms?

-- Ed Parkinson, Atlanta

A: Data released in 2017 by the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that 23 of the 50 busiest airports in the world have smoke-free indoors policies.

There is a demand, especially among international passengers, for smoking rooms in parts of the airport past the main security checkpoint, according to comments from an airport spokesman in a previous Atlanta Journal-Constitution story.

Q: Where is the GBI with the backlog of rape kits?

-- Michael Mauk, Lawrenceville, Ga.

A: The current number awaiting testing is 3,453, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in January 2017 reported that 10,314 kits were awaiting testing at the GBI.

Fast Copy News Service wrote this column for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Do you have a question about the news? We'll try to get the answer. Call 404-222-2002 or email q&a(at)ajc.com (include name, phone and city).

Story Filed By Cox Newspapers

For Use By Clients of the New York Times News Service