Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018
The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 was enacted on February 9, 2018 and includes a number of items related to Congressional budget process. While it is an appropriation bill, a continuing resolution to be specific, that funds the government through March 23, 2018, it also contains an increase in the debt limit, establishes a Joint Select Committee on Budget and Appropriations Process Reform and also “deeming” resolutions that take the place of a budget resolution for fiscal year 2019, until a proper concurrent resolution on the budget can be adopted.
Though the previous two versions of this bill have reports associated with them, this one does not. Formally, only the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 has an official report, and even that was a committee print drafted for the express purpose of explaining the nature of the law. The report on the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 was not a formal committee print, but rather a Counsel Report drafted by the House Budget Committee’s Counsel, and never officially approved. The BBA 2018 has nothing of this sort, but instead has this website’s description of it’s provisions, but again, nothing formal. The Congressional Research Service will likely produce reports on its provisions, such as the one it has done on the Joint Select Committee on Budget and Appropriation Process Reform, which is title IV of Division C of the Act.
Discretionary Spending Adjustment
In Title II, which is termed “offsets”, section 30206 provides for an adjustment to the discretionary spending limits for reemployment services and eligibility assessments. It provides for an increase in discretionary spending of $174 through fiscal year 2022, though this amount is subject to future congressional action so it does not score as “direct spending“.
This adjustment is similar to the other program integrity adjustments designed to increase discretionary spending in order to gain spending in direct spending. This spending is promoted, and justified, as being a method to increase efficiency generally by reducing forms of abuse or inefficiency in a direct spending program. The CBO estimate for title II of division C explains this (Footnote A):
Section 30206 also would provide authorizations for reemployment services and eligibility assessments for fiscal years 2022 through 2027 totaling $3.3 billion, which is $2.5 billion more than the amounts in CBO’s baseline projections for those years. If such amounts were appropriated, that additional funding would result in nonscorable outlay and revenue effects that would, on net, reduce deficits by $3.1 billion over the 2022-2027 period.
Debt Limit Increase
The BBA 2018 increases the debt limit in section 30301 by amending title 31 of the U.S. Code. The main element of the section is in section 30301(a) and simply turns off the debt limit for just over a year: “Section 3101(b) of title 31, United States Code, shall not apply for the period beginning on the date of the enactment of this Act and ending on March 1, 2019.”
The rest of the section allows the debt to increase by whatever amount is necessary to keep the government operating and forbids the Treasury from excess borrowing to build up a reserve above “normal operating balances” to brace for the date when the “extension period” runs out.
This is a cumbersome oddity with the sole identifiable feature of avoiding putting a specific number on the amount of increase in the debt limit. The obviously political nature of the maneuver may have some benefit for those wishing to avoid talking points and campaign ads. As a purely technical drafting matter, it is an example of clever politics bringing on the daft draft.
Division C—Budgetary and Other Matters
Title IV— Joint Select Committee on Budget and Appropriations Process Reform
The BBA 2018 established the Joint Select Committee on Budget and Appropriations Process Reform (JCBA) in order to reform the budget and appropriation process. The parameters are not specified, and even the broad descriptions are meager. The committee “provide recommendations and legislative language that will significantly reform the budget and appropriations process.” (§30442(b)(2)(A))
The reasons and background for its insertion into the BBA 2018 are even murkier. No one has taken credit for it, or for its drafting, though it’s reasonably clear it was initiated and written somewhere in the Senate. No one in the House, at the time of the drafting, was capable of writing it, though much of it was converted from the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction from the Budget Control Act of 2011. Where it departs from that structure, the terms are Senate-oriented language, such as in section 30442(b)(4)(I) where staff are to be hired “consistent with the rules and regulations of the Senate.” This is likely because under section 30443, the JCBA is funded from Senate accounts.
Compliance with the Budget Laws and Rules
For a bill that includes a title establishing a joint select committee charged with writing a bill to reform the budget process, it is remarkable, perhaps the word is “ironic,” as to how many budget violations the bill includes. See the Compliance with the Budget Rules of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 for a bit more detail on what they are.