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)

United States Constitution

Notes from beyond the wall
February 5, 2021

It has been almost a year since last this website saw an update of any real substance. This was not related to the travails of 2020, or rather it had to do with one very specific one: The collapse of the budget process saw its disappearance. Not even the rubble seemed to remain as a reminder that “to budget is to govern”, which was an oft-heard phrase at one point in time.

Now, however, something has changed, and that is the President, and the control of Congress. The concerns about eliminating the Senate’s filibuster have now subsided with two Senators, Joe Mancing (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) pledging to oppose any change in that Senatorial custom (the latter stating she is “‘Not Open to Changing Her Mind’. This means other alternatives to moving legislation are now being considered, and that means the ironically named “reconciliation“. Etymologically, the two words “filibuster” and “reconciliation” make for an odd pair. The first comes from a variant of “freebooter” meaning a pirate or people with similar inclinations; the second is based on “conciliate”, which comes from “a calling together” to “unite in feelings, make friendly”.

The first seems a bit closer to the mark, because nothing about reconciliation is looking too friendly right about now. The Senate has included reconciliation instructions in a budget resolution that it passed with the Vice President breaking the tie vote, and now it must be approved by the House once again since it was amended. This is break-neck speed, with budget resolutions rarely meeting the April 15 target date for adoption, and lately, not considered at all.

To think this indicates some newfound love of budgeting and fiscal responsibility on the part of a new administration and new majority in the Senate, well, that would be more than even the steadfast optimism to which this website is dedicated can bear. No, the powers in the land want another way around the piratical freebooters ( …. filibuster) and so they are looking at ways to unite in friendliness. One cannot get a reconciliation bill without adopting a budget resolution first. Normally that entails lot of hearings, lots of talking, the Budget Committees marking things up, all that legislative stuff.

That takes time, and no appetite is in evidence for it, hence, straight to the floor, a voila, a concurrent resolution in force (not signed by a President).

The unfortunate part is that this website is somewhat weak on the massive complexities of reconciliation — mostly because organizing the material is a daunting task. The intricacies of the Byrd Rule alone requires book-length treatment and did get a rough draft of one some years ago by the Democrats’ retired budget expert Bill Dauster: The Byrd Rule Annotated).

One thing is certain, the new Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee has been quoted in numerous publications as saying the following:

“It is the vice president who determines what is and is not permissible under budget reconciliation.”

That is completely wrong. While the presiding officer of the Senate, and under the Constitution that task is given to the Vice President as “President of the Senate”, a task he usually leaves to a fill-in (the “President Pro Tempore”), what “determines” permissibility is the body of Rules of the Senate. The Senate Parliamentarian is the keeper of the interpretations of those rules, and he provides guidance to the Presiding Officer, who rules accordingly. In the instant case, both those roles are held by women, but the point remains the same. When she rules, the VP must follow the guidance of the Senate Parliamentarian even if her guidance is not helpful, or she will be acting in bad faith.

The term “bad faith” is in this case when the rule in question clearly indicates a ruling one way, and the presiding officer rules as expedience dictates rather than adherence to principle.

The above quote from Bernie Sanders was made two years ago, in April of 2019. Perhaps he has had a change of heart along with his change from Ranking Member to Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee. When expedience becomes principle, then the rules, budget or otherwise, are useless.

Random thoughts from days past … collectively just called: The Blather File.

Items of Note

Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019 (H.R. 3877; 116th Congress)
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)