Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Congressional Budget Process

“Deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.” – Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt

Our story about the budget process continues with a visual that may be familiar to long-time keen observers of DC. The President’s budget is legally supposed to be submitted to Congress between the first Monday in January and the first Monday in February, when pallets of the huge tome are delivered to office buildings on Capitol Hill (for FY2019, that means the deadline is Feb 5th). This rarely happens on time anymore- especially in the President’s first year in office- and there are no legal consequences for failure to perform this on time.

The Congressional Budget Act of 1974 generally governs the budget process on Capitol Hill, but remember that Congress’ budget and final appropriations bills do not have to agree with the President’s budget and almost never do. The President’s budget is a strong suggestion. It can be seen as a political document, outlining the funding and cuts the Administration will fight for at the end of the process.

Around February 15th, the Congressional Budget Office submits budget and economic outlook reports to the House and Senate Budget Committees, and by sometime in mid-March, Committees submit their views and estimates to the Budget Committees. By April 1st, the Senate Budget Committee is supposed to report a Budget Resolution; and by April 15th, both chambers are supposed to have completed action on their budget resolutions and passed them on the floor.

These budget resolutions have no legal effect; they do not raise or spend any money. The budget resolution is a framework for Congress to consider revenue and spending legislation related to the appropriations process, which lays out spending limits for the Appropriations Committee, officially referred to as 302(a) allocations.

Just to give you an idea of how off the rails we can get with deadlines; the House just passed the FY2018 Budget Resolution last week by a 219-206 vote. Under regular order, that should have been done by mid-April.

In our next couple of post, we’ll cover the final aspects of the Congressional budget process, and look at how Congress appropriates discretionary spending.

- Jared Payne

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