Budget Counsel Reference


Reference Source
for the
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:

A Compendium of the Budget Laws Annotated (116th Congress)

Bill of Note: H.R. 3877 (116th Congress) – Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019
Notes from beyond the wall
February 15, 2020

It might seem incongruous for a Budget Reference page to not make much note of the President’s recent budget submission (31 USC 1105), which is the commonly agreed upon triggering of budget season. A number of reasons contribute to the lack of enthusiasm for the event. Perhaps the first is the utter lack of consequence the document has — it is massive, comes in multiple volumes, and is extremely important (particularly to the Budget and Appropriation Committees) in the detail presented.

While the common assumption is that the date for its submission is the first Monday in February, that is technically not true. The date was moved back 1990 from it original January deadline only as a failsafe, with the full expectation that the prior date would still be met. It was not, has not, will not, ever be met again until the law is changed.

The most important thing that happened really associated with the budget submission was seeing Russ Vought come up before Congress. He handled the hearing at the House Budget Committee better than any in recent memory – very sharp, knowledgeable, and knew pretty much what they were going to ask. Members of Congress are not that imaginative when it comes to devising new and clever ways of asking obnoxious questions. It shows, perhaps, that a solid background in being a Congressional staffer, one in budget in general, and budget process in particular, all of which Russ has, helps a good deal.

He ran the Republican Study Committee’s budget process responsibilities pretty much by himself for years, wrote their “Family Budget Protection Act” and that was when the RSC Members were the bomb throwers, always annoying Republican Leadership with one tactic or another to instill budgetary discipline. That is largely gone, as is any semblance of budgetary discipline, from just about any quarter.

January 27, 2020

In 2015, the House Budget Committee held a hearing intended to allow Members to hear and discuss how to approach the budget process from a “first principles” standpoint. The quotes indicate the name of the hearing, and if anything needs a reset, it is how the Federal Government sets its policies over how to collect and distribute the vast amounts of revenue it requires each year to function. This hearing did no go well. While Republicans, who were in the majority at the time, observed the idea of a non-partisan, or even bipartisan, objective review of what would be a fair and practical approach to these things. The Democrats, led by then Ranking Member, now Senator, Chris Van Hollen, decided that party politics would be more helpful in their position as the minority.

That was an unfortunate event, and not really indicative of party politics for Democrats versus Republicans, it just happened that in that instance, it was the Democrats who could not manage to suspend the infighting for an afternoon. In another circumstance the roles might easily have been reversed.

The point of this really is that history is not encouraging as to the rise and fall of the great powers. Those last eight words comprise the name of a book written in the late 1980s by a very smart guy named Paul Kennedy, who managed to get it comically wrong — that was the one that predicted Japan would overtake the U.S. as the global economic superpower and that America’s overextended global commitments had wrecked it and consigned it to second-rate status, courtesy of fighting the Cold War. In under five years the Soviets were gone and Japan was heading into sustained stagnation. Smart guy of course did what these really smart guys do — claimed he was right anyway.

The thing he might have seen in his survey of great powers, in addition to living beyond their income streams, is internal division. It has happened almost without fail through history. The “almost” is only because some power somewhere might have escaped it, but none really come to mind. Persians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Ottomans, the list is long. Sometimes internal rivalry is good — it is often used to explain how Europe, a small area that is really just a subcontinent of the vast Asian landmass, gets to be its own continent and subjugated the entire world at one point or another. Competition is good — it keeps you on your game. In 21st century America, it is easy to say “it’s the worst it’s ever been” and “a nation divided” — well, we’ve been more divided, and with bloody results — real blood, at Cold Harbor, and Antietam, and the rest.

Problem comes when the problem has not come, yet. It is identifiable, and it is sitting in the computers at OMB and CBO and GAO and HBC and SBC, and well, the Appropriators too, though they only really are responsible for a third of it and don’t do taxes. Structural deficit — that’s the worrisome thing, since in all those great powers, they have had that problem too. Tax everything, ruin your economic ability to maintain the lifestyle to which you have become accustomed. The reason the United State can afford to engage in all this silly infighting is because it’s a luxury that is affordable. It may be ugly and unpleasant, but someone is getting chuckles from it.

Not here — as Iggy Pop said once: No fun.


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

Items of Note, the List

Budget Process

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

None: Fiscal year 2020 levels have been deemed in the House, and the Senate has reported a concurrent resolution)