The term discretionary action is no longer commonly used for its original purpose, but shows up in current budget resolution allocation tables, but are more important in understanding those tables from fiscal year 2009.
In allocation tables, which are included in reports on a committee-passed budget resolutions and the conference reports on such resolutions, the tables are used to display the amounts each committee is permitted to spend in a fiscal year.
In its original incarnation, the term discretionary action indicates amounts of spending that may be included in an authorizing committee’s allocation of budget authority that is above the baseline levels of spending. For such committees, its section 302(a) allocation comprises these two elements: A baseline amount and a “discretionary action” amount. See the explanatory text from the Conference Report on Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985 below.
House allocation tables, beginning with S. Con. Res. 70 (110th Congress), replaced the term “discretionary action” with “resolution change”. The term “discretionary action” was considered to be confusing with the term “discretionary spending”, that is entirely different. The term, ironically, is used currently in House budget resolutions for the allocation to the House Appropriation Committee for general discretionary spending. It is somewhat analogous since, despite the discretionary spending baseline, all appropriation bills are scored from a base of zero, so all amounts provided in appropriation bill (apart from appropriated entitlements and certain other spending provisions) are considered “new” spending.
Conference Report on Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985
The following text is from the Conference Report on BBEDCA:
Separation between current level and discretionary action
All amounts – new budget authority, outlays, entitlement authority, and new credit authority – are allocated in two separate components, “Current Level” and “Discretionary Action”.
Current level refers to amounts provided or required by law as a result of permanent appropriations, advance appropriations, existing entitlement authority, and “prior-year” outlays from discretionary appropriations. Some of these laws can also provide credit authority, which is allocated in the “current level” category, as are direct loans that result from defaults on guaranteed loans.
Discretionary action refers to all amounts assumed in the budget resolution but not yet enacted into law for “direct spending” legislation and for discretionary appropriations for such fiscal year. There is only one target for discretionary action entitlement authority, applying to all entitlement legislation whether funded through Federal, revolving, or trust funds. The discretionary action allocation of budget authority, outlays, and entitlement authority would include any assumed legislative increase or decrease to existing permanent or entitlement law, and all new discretionary appropriations for such fiscal year. Such assumed action also includes new credit legislation and new loan limitations to be established by the Committee on Appropriations. The term “discretionary action” corresponds to “new discretionary budget authority” and to “new entitlement authority” as used in the Budget Act.
U.S. House of Representatives, Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985: Conference Report to Accompany H. J. Res. 372, House Report 99-433 (December 10, 1985).
Congressional Budget Act Amendments of 1984 (CBAA 1984)
The CBAA of 1984 included the following definition for an “alloction for discretionary action” in its proposed amendments to the Congressional Budget Act of 1984. It was not enacted, but served as a step toward the subsequent enactment of BBEDCA. The bill would have added the following new paragraph to section 3 (CBA):
(6) The term “allocation for discretionary action” means an amount for control of congressional action to increase or de- crease levels under current law of budget authority (excluding such authority to cover entitlement authority in the case of the Committee on Appropriations),direct loan obligations or primary loan guarantee commitments, spending authority as described by section 401(c)(2), revenues, and tax expenditures (excluding the effect of changes in tax rates under existing law).
U.S. House of Representatives, Congressional Budget Act Amendments of 1984 Report to Accompany H.R 5247, H. Rept. 98-1152 (Committee on Rules) October 1984, p. 167