Budget Counsel Reference
Congressional Budget Process
Welcome to the Budget Counsel Reference website. The intent and design here is to facilitate greater comprehension of Congressional budget law. Of the many responsibilities of the U.S. Congress, perhaps the most essential is its power over the resources of the United States. The law governing the budget process is not a matter of accounting, but the essence of a republican form of government.
A Compendium of the Laws
For those who like actual books, a compendium of the budget laws can be obtained here:
Bill of Note: H.R. 3877 (116th Congress) – Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019
Notes from beyond the wall
March 28, 2020
Final passage through the House of this cargo ship full of legislation was ugly, very ugly, and of questionable legislative validity. That might take a good deal of verbiage, and thought – whether a quorum was actually in the chamber to allow the bill to be voted by voice, though a Member demanded the roll call vote be taken, is unprecedented (or at least within long memory — maybe something happened before C-Span).
The idea of remote voting though has now been raised. raised, and reported on.
Oddly, this is not a new idea. The most serious legislation, though it went nowhere, got a little bit of attention, was offered up by John Kasich. Yes, the guy who was later House Budget Committee Chairman throughout the nineties, then Governor of Ohio, and candidate for President, losing to Trump. He had an idea called the “Electronic Congress” whereby Members of Congress could debate on legislation, then vote on matters, all from their districts. The idea behind it was not for emergency purposes but rather to diminish the condition known as “going native” — which is to say becoming accustomed to the power culture in Washington D.C.
While the media, some anyway, took notice of it, the House Democratic leadership, with Speaker Tom Foley in charge (before he was taken out in the 1994 Republican gale force election win). He flatly stated: No Member of Congress will vote anywhere but on the House floor. He was right insofar as the respect for the institution does demand a Member’s presence. Even the “run for your lives” panic that has gripped Congress since the virus has turned very ugly, and lethal, should at least be tempered by the esteem they should feel toward the House.
Underlying the dead set opposition by Speaker O’Neil was his understanding that the presence of Members in D.C. is essential to maintain party discipline, and would mortally threaten the way legislation is managed. It is difficult to twist an arm from a thousand miles away, or over the phone for that matter. D.C. and the House in particular, operates with face-to-face meetings. The psychological elements of it, the cultural aspect, have been talked about, written about, reported on, but still are difficult to understand in their intricacies.
Much like the emergency measures they passed in the event that a terrorist attack were to decapitate the Congress, this is probably a good idea if it is done for that purpose. The broader “Electronic Congress” idea though, were it considered seriously, would be a populists dream come true — the ability to detach Members of Congress from the power source and keep the leash to the district, where their constituents are, would likely be a boon for voices less centrist in their outlook. That has positives, negatives, but they veer very clearly into the political and hence less interesting when what really matters is how Budget Act points of order would be evaluated.
March 27, 2020
This is as bad as it has ever been. The so-common- it-is- beyond- trite saying “never let a good crisis go to waste” is on display here. The worse case economic disaster, with Timothy Geithner telling people if we don’t pass this bill the ATM machines will stop working (he really did say that a dozen years ago), and that was the TARP (the “troubled assets”, better known as “toxic”) Act from back when a trillion dollars was something, It was something that spooked people. Well double that bill, then add half-trillion for good measure and you have this thing that will be signed without much protest from anyone. The legislators who were savvy enough to get their junk on this barge, well it is leaving port and will make the trek downriver to the White House for a nice signing ceremony. This is the last website to go to for political insight, so who knows, maybe voting against this disaster of a disaster bill is political suicide. Maybe all those talking points which say that throwing in the reauthorization of the Healthy Start Program through 2024 was absolutely vital and in fact an “emergency” as the whole thing is designated. That’s just picked at random from the bill — could be just about anything.
Twenty-five years ago Republicans took control of Congress and vowed to offset all new emergency spending, so that even urgent, unforeseen needs should be looked at responsibly. That’s a good talking point, but was forgotten many years ago. Anyway, how exactly does one offset $2.2 trillion? Many disasters have come, and usually stayed, emergencies all of them. TARP was $700 billion (or around), and came in a little under, though that was paid back by the banks. That was unusual, Katrina had money flowing long after the tidewaters receded and New Orleans went back to just its normal swampy.
The U.S. Capitol, with the White House either in tow or leading the charge, has a habit of reacting to a disaster by the great posturing of “I care more than you do, and I can prove it by spending money we don’t have.” Simply being a kvetch about going deeper into debt, and the bringing up examples from the past (as in Katrina-style recklessness) or the farther in the past (as in the Romans did the same thing under Diocletian). That’s what budget people do — they are the nags at the party saying “wait a minute, who’s paying for all this?”
The fear that can befall an entire nation is a real thing, and it is usually helped along by a media that all of a sudden remembers there was a flu epidemic back in 1918 that killed about 600,000 Americans (millions worldwide), and starts using words like “plague”. Fear spreads faster than the virus since the TV, computer, and now the phone are carriers and infect vast numbers of people. That politicians are impelled to do something about this is entirely expected. The magnitude is not — this is far higher, far more than anyone can rationally justify. Where are the budget people? No one seems to be saying “Wait a minute, who is …”
Random thoughts from days past … collectively just called: The Blather File.
Items of Note
Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019
H. Res. 6 (116th Congress)
The Joint Committee on Budget and Appropriations has a website …
Whither the Budget Committee? Wither the Budget Committee
Biennial Budgeting and the Budget as Law: An Inadvertent Trial Run
The Daft Draft: Wording and Debt Limit Language
Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018
Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 (Pub. L. 115-123)
Joint Select Committee on Budget and Appropriations Process Reform (BBA 2018)
H. J. Res. 128, Continuing Resolution (Expiring February 8, 2018)
H. Con. Res. 71 (FY2018 Budget Resolution)
Bad Idea: Directed Scoring Provision
Current services budget deadline missed, again
For some background on budget process, history, and reform: Analysis: Contemplating the Congressional Budget Process
Quote: the way the future looked and looks
“2002? Who cares about 2002? Do you think any of us will still be working here then?”
Rick May, Staff Director of the House Budget Committee in 1996 when advised of the implications a particular policy might have in the (then) future of 2002.
Periodic Counsel advisory
The Periodic Counsel Advisory was a sometime explanation of budgetary matters that was sent out by the Chief Counsel of the House Budget Committee some years ago, before leaving during the 115th Congress.
Current Budget Resolution