Defund The Congressional Budget Act?
Appropriators have hated the Congressional Budget Act since even before it was enacted in 1974.
During the two years in which that act was drafted, revised, re-revised, debated, re-debated and eventually adopted, appropriators from both houses complained that it wasn't needed, that they already had the power of the purse that was being given to the budget committees, that they had been the stewards of the people's money since the beginning of the republic, that it infringed on their jurisdiction and that it wouldn't work.
That attitude has barely changed over the past almost 40 years, which is why it was hardly a shock when my friend Jim Dyer, former staff director of the House Appropriations Committee, emailed me last week to say that it was time to do away with the budget act. With Jim's permission, here's the exact quote from his email:
Isn't it time to Sunset the Budget Act? Isn't it time to go back to 1973 when we do 12 Appropriations Bills working off the Executive Budget? Isn't it time to let the authorizing committees do mandatories while eliminating the Budget Committee middleman? Isn't it time to acknowledge that this Congress and previous Congresses and probably future Congresses do not want to a do a Congressional Budget? Isn't it time to admit that five consecutive years of failure should be enough for termination in this process?
To paraphrase Roseanne Roseannadanna, one of the characters Gilda Radnor made famous when she was one of the original cast members of Saturday Night Live, "Jim, for a guy from Washington you sure ask a lot of questions."
Here are my answers.
First, it's never going to happen. Even those members of Congress who hate the Congressional Budget Act and gleefully ignore its provisions will have trouble voting to repeal it. As obnoxious and worthless as they think the act may be, going on record to repeal it is way too politically risky because it can or will easily be mischaracterized as a vote for fiscal irresponsibility.
Second, it's never going to happen. A debate to repeal the Congressional Budget Act can easily get out of control (especially in the Senate) and a new process that's even worse could be the result. Few in either party will want to risk that.
Third, at this point it's not even clear that there needs to be a formal repeal. After all, given how little of it is being followed, the Congressional Budget Act essentially has already been abandoned. And the spending caps and sequester provisions set by the Budget Control Act in 2011 supersedes much of the CBA anyway.
Fourth, the process Dyer is suggesting as an alternative -- appropriations committees marking up off the president's budget and authorization committees dealing with mandatory programs -- is also destined to fail given the current politics of the budget in Washington. Don't forget: What Dyer is suggesting is all Congress has been trying (emphasis on #trying) to do the past few years and even that has failed badly.
Finally...Yes, I'll admit that Congresses past, present and future don't want to pass a budget. But just because they don't want to do he fiscal equivalent of eating their vegetables or doing their homework doesn't mean that they shouldn't be required to do so or penalized for not getting it done.