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

The last compilation of the budget laws and rules was published in 2015 and a new one has been overdue. “Comps” are documents that contain the up-to-date law on a particular subject and for drafting measures for Congress, or for fun, such a resource is indispensable. The budget laws are all here on this website, somewhere, but an actual book is easier to read, more convenient, and more navigable. For those who like paper, one can be obtained here:

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

Notes from beyond the wall

May 18, 2019

The Art of Scorekeeping” is a website created by Art Stigile, a long-time budget expert who recently retired from the Office of Management and Budget. Using the word “expert” is problematic because it is woefully insufficient to really indicate the amount of experience, knowledge, and acumen Art possesses and has brought to bear during difficult budget times (which is to say, most of the time). OMB will have a tough time figuring out how to fill the gap with his well-deserved retirement. It is a good thing for OMB that phones and e-mail are available for the “what in the world are we going to do about this?” situations that will certainly arise.  

The website has a great deal of information related to the Federal Capital Revolving Fund proposal he advocates (link is to the BCR display — the website is the place for information. It is a method by which capital projects, things like infrastructure projects, buildings and the like are financed. In a sense it is creating a capital budget within the Federal budget process. It is best to obtain the specifications straight from the authority; hence, in summary, it is:

a legislative proposal to create a new Federal Capital Revolving Fund (FCRF) within the unified budget that would: (1) function as a capital budget for investment in federally owned civilian real property; and (2) implement budget enforcement rules that exclude the up-front acquisition cost from the discretionary caps and instead charge the cost to discretionary funding over several years as the assets are used to provide services to the agency and taxpayers.

[From the transmittal letter of June 12, 2018 for the FCRF Legislative Proposal (pdf)]

Details on how the proposal would work are on the website along with material on scorekeeping and the Federal budget process.

May 8, 2019

“To budget is to govern.”

It is hard to attribute that phrase to any particular person since it has been repeated so often, but trite as it may be it still rings true. While partisan politics is not part of this website, failing to recognize when partisanship happens and how party politics operates as a force would be an omission. For those who believe the Congress needs to asserts itself in budgetary matters as a matter of constitutional responsibility, a partisan motivation might have been useful in getting a budget resolution considered, passed, and deemed in force in the House. Even if Democrats said to each other something like “we are going to show the Republicans how they failed and we succeeded in the basics of governing”, while not exactly the most noble of sentiments, it might have had positive practical results. In that case it does not matter what the motivation is, if it had led to a resuscitation of the Congressional budget process, something would have been accomplished. One can do the right thing even if the motivations for doing it are not the most serenely high minded.

Fiscal Year 2020 – None (116th Congress)

April 17, 2019

The House deeming resolution, H. Res. 293 (116th Congress), is worth pondering in it breadth and also its narrowness. As with all deemers, it is a poor substitute for a full conference report on a budget resolution. That was never going to happen here, and did not happen for many years throughout this decade (and the last), even when the same party controlled both chambers (almost always Republican in such cases though). This was a preemptive deemer, which in the way of the Congress means no budget resolution will be done. Once the House, or the Senate, is not required to do something, it will not do it. Budget resolutions are not fun to vote for — they spending without the fun of giving it to people and taxes without being able to cut them. It is mostly about deficits in the long term and how damaging they are as debt mounts.

This deeming resolution does not place into force a full budget, as was normally the case prior to 115th Congress. It does the least amount possible to make the Congressional Budget Act of 1974 enforceable in some fashion, primarily by giving the Appropriations Committee a number to mark their bills to. The interesting part is the deficit-neutral reserve fund general authority. Most reserve funds require a specific bill or at least a particular policy for which special treatment is accorded, and then some amount by which the budget can be adjusted to allow it to come to the floor. In section 1(d)(2) of H. Res. 293,  the fiscal year 2020 deemer allows the concept for anything coming to the floor that is deficit neutral over five and ten years.

Calling it a “general reserve fund” is a poor use of words here. It could also be called “general adjustment authority”, or simply a variation on the existing House Paygo Point of Order. It generally follows the concept of the latter with the distinction of having different time periods. House Paygo applies over six and eleven years, including in both cases the “current year“, which is the year preceding the “budget year“. When October 1 comes though, the periods will be unified since the current year will effectively, and ironically, be in the past since the budget year will have arrived, along with the inevitable continuing resolution.

The other variation is that there is no emergency escape hatch. In House Paygo, a bill can skip the process by including a designation that it is an “emergency for purposes of pay-as-you-go principles”; whatever that means. A better reference would have been to cross reference found in the section 3(9) of the Congressional Budget Act of 1974, which identifies the definition found in section 250 of the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985. It is still much better than the drafting of the Cutgo procedure that it replaced, which used the designation from section 4(g) of the Statutory Pay-As-You-Go Act of 2010. The budget process would be greatly improved overall were a central, unified, and comprehensive set of definitions were established to apply to both the rules-based components and the statutory elements.  

In a quirk of the budget rules, no emergency designation exists in the House for direct spending. Adjustments fall under section 314(d) (CBA), which allows alterations to be made to the budget resolution for specified reasons, including discretionary spending and revenue as would be designated under section 251(b)(2) (BBBEDCA), but it omits direct spending.

The House Deeming resolution, H. Res. 293, comprises two sections:

Section 1. Budget Matter
Sec. 2. Limitation On Advance Appropriations.

Apri 12, 2019

The hoped for return to a budget process, of some sort, has not materialized.

The House has deemed budget levels (H. Res. 293 (116th Congress)), which does not replicate a full budget resolution deemed in force, and the Senate Budget committee has reported a full budget resolution (S. Con. Res. 112 (116th Congress).

The new Democratic majority has not been able to replicate its successful first three years in their previous majority, wherein they were able to obtain conference reports on the budget for three of the four years they were in the majority (in both House and Senate). While the resulting reconciliation process that created Obamacare was not to everyone’s liking, in fact it was a mess, and it vacuumed out the political energy for just about anything else, it was a process. Budgeting is messy business as a rule, so the fastidious and the Felix Ungers of the world have no happiness to expect in the best of times.

These are not the best of times. 

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

Items of Note

Federal Capital Revolving Fund Proposal
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

With a Joint Select Committee on Budget and Appropriations Process Reform established by the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, those keenly aware of the overwhelming need for such reform must be encouraged. The specifics of the procedures the Committee must follow are somewhat daunting, but any start is a good start. In particular, two thing make for difficulty: The time frame is short — the Select Committee is given only until the end of the year to finish the task. The other is that not only is a majority required of its members, but a majority of both Republicans and Democrats must be in favor it. With budget reform being difficult and complex, this is a hurdle, but optimism is in order since the topic has arisen and the opportunity for success is welcome. 

For some background on the issue of budget reform, the below tractate lays out the basics:

Analysis: Contemplating the Congressional Budget Process

  Periodic Counsel Advisory
Current Budget Resolution

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