Our Broken Budget Process
Posted on March 19, 2015
Here are five things that are wrong with the Congressional Budget Process
1) It’s non-binding: The House and the Senate work feverishly passing their respective budgets, but they never send the final product to the President. For some reason, the guys who designed the process in the early 70’s didn’t want Richard Nixon to decide its fate. So, the budget resolution has about as much force in law as the resolution to name your local Post Office after Mickey Mouse.
2) It’s too partisan: The resolutions, by design, are meant to be political documents. The Senate usually is the saucer that cools the ardor of the House, but in this case, the process is meant to be expedited, meaning that a budget can pass with only 50 votes (as long as the Vice President is with you). But a partisan budget process is destined for failure.
3) It’s too political: The Senate has gotten into the habit of using a budget resolution to help campaign mavens to design clever 30-second commercials. This happens specifically with the voter-rama, where for one days, the Upper Body votes on an endless array of amendments with barely enough time for the Senators to understand what they are voting on, let alone give them a moment to have a dignified debate on the subject matter. The process has become a cruel, sick joke that these guys are playing on themselves, because ultimately, they are the ones who get hammered with the ads.
4) It misses the point: The biggest problem facing the federal budget comes with entitlement spending. Unfortunately, the only thing the Congressional budget is required to do is set the discretionary spending caps. We don’t have a discretionary spending problem. We have a mandatory spending problem. And the budget process really does nothing to require action on that biggest part of the federal ledger.
5) It’s never right: The budget window is both too long and not long enough. The assumptions made about the future usually turn out to be wildly inaccurate, especially when it comes to economic growth. Policy makers would be better off if they were more realistic about what they know about the future (which is little), and just try to be more responsible with short-term spending decisions.