Proposal for a Joint Budget Resolution
Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget
The following is a proposal by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a think tank devoted to improving the procedures of the U.S. Government related to handling its finances. This is a helpful way of approaching the possibility of a Joint Budget Resolution:
April 16, 2016
2. Change to a joint budget resolution signed by the President
Current practice: The budget resolution is a concurrent resolution, which means it is adopted by the House and Senate but not signed by the President. Although it sets Congressional rules and procedures, it does not have the force of law.
Problem: Currently, the President’s involvement in the budget-writing process is advisory at best. The White House proposes its own budget (which is of a very different nature than the budget resolution) at the beginning of the year, but this budget functions more as a set of suggestions than anything else. The President has absolutely no input when it comes to the allocation or levels of spending and revenue in the budget resolution.
Indeed, the first time the President has any formal role in the budget process is when legislation following up on the budget resolution – typically appropriations bills but sometimes legislation that results from reconciliation instructions – comes to the President’s desk for a signature or veto late in the year.
Because the President has veto power over individual tax and spending bills but no veto power over the aggregate levels outlined in the budget resolution, a Congress that follows through with its budget resolution is likely to pass policies the President opposes, requiring ad hoc negotiations revising spending and revenue levels at the end of the year. These end-of-year budget deals rarely look at the impact of legislation on the entire budget outlook as the budget resolution does, often leading to deficits much higher than called for in the budget resolution.
In addition, the concurrent resolution can only be enforced through points of order prohibiting consideration of legislation that violates the budget resolution and other internal procedures and cannot establish statutory enforcement mechanisms. It is therefore often viewed as “non-binding” and not taken as seriously as a law.
Proposal: Rather than a concurrent resolution agreed to by both chambers of Congress, there could be a joint budget resolution agreed to by both Congress and the President.
A joint budget resolution requiring a presidential signature would bring the President into decisions about discretionary spending levels, other tax and spending levels, and deficit reduction targets early in the process. This would lead to a more desirable outcome where negotiations occur at the beginning of the year before Congress moves forward with the legislative process, rather than at the end of the year after legislation has already been written.
Having these negotiations early in the process will allow discussions regarding the top line for discretionary appropriations and other legislation to occur within the context of an overall framework that considers the impact of individual decisions on the overall bottom-line. Resolving disagreements over the aggregate levels of spending and revenue before filling in the details would be more efficient. Agreement on a joint budget resolution would allow the appropriations process to move forward with an agreement on the top line for spending, providing more opportunity for consideration of individual issues in the appropriations bills through the regular process.
Requiring that the President sign a budget resolution could delay adoption of a budget resolution by requiring additional time for negotiations with the administration. The process could be expedited by the creation of a joint budget committee that produces a single budget resolution for consideration by the House and Senate. In addition, there may be a need for a fallback mechanism setting spending and revenue levels based on the joint resolution for purposes of internal enforcement to allow appropriations and other budget-related legislation to move forward if the President vetoes the joint budget resolution.
Changing the budget resolution to a joint resolution signed by the President would also make it possible for the budget resolution to establish statutory changes, including adjusting discretionary spending caps, increasing the statutory debt limit, and setting up an enforcement mechanism such as sequestration that would take effect if Congress fails to meet the specified deficit reduction targets. This improvement will cause lawmakers to take the budget resolution more seriously and consider whether they are prepared to abide by the limits in the budget, especially if they were accompanied by statutory enforcement mechanisms.