Could it Be? A Normal Budget Year?
If the budget process for fiscal year 2014 is lining up to be normal, that’s no guarantee that it will finish that way. But it’s a start.
The background: Each year, there is a set schedule on which the president and Congress are supposed to propose budgets and pass spending bills for the coming fiscal year. It’s fiscal year 2013 right now. Fiscal 2014 starts October 1st.
In just another week, the budgeting process for fiscal 2014 starts with the president’s presentation of his budget. Alas, he’s already indicated that he’ll be late… Let’s ignore that, because much more important parts of the budget process appear as though they will happen on time. (Could it be?)
The story starts with Republican complaints that the Democratic Senate has failed to produce a budget in years. We think that’s generally true, but arguably the “budgeting” Congress does isn’t really budgeting at all—not compared to the president’s detailed plan, anyway.
But good things happen when the House and Senate both do their budgets. We can show you how the two differ!
We could compare the spending proposed in both houses and where it would go. Pretty cool! That was almost four years ago…
The next chapter in the story brings in the debt ceiling debate.
With the government nearing the legal limit on its borrowing, House Republicans were looking for a way to require spending cuts in exchange for raising the debt ceiling. It wasn’t going well. By all appearances, President Obama and the Senate Democrats were about to hand them their hats.
So they engineered a face-saving way out. They said, “We’ll agree to suspend the debt ceiling for a short period of time if the Senate agrees to produce a budget, getting no pay if they don’t. Ha-HAH!”
Crucially, the White House said it “would not oppose” the House plan. That was going to leave Senate Democrats hanging out to dry. And the indignity of having their pay suspended by the lowly House!
But the Senate has a face-saving way out, too. With the retirement of Kent Conrad (D-ND), they have a new Budget Committee Chairman, Patty Murray (D) from Washington. She isn’t committed to the (weak) arguments that Conrad had been making about the Senate’s budgeting for the last three years. She can pass a budget because she wants to, avoiding the appearance that she and the Senate are being pushed around by the House.
Yes, some of the most important debates are also like petulant children fighting in the sandbox. Both the House and Senate want to come out of this looking good. Happily, this time they can do so while doing the right thing—passing their budgets!
According to the law, the Senate must pass a budget by April 1st, and both houses of Congress are supposed to agree to a final budget plan by April 15th. According to H.R. 325, the No Budget, No Pay Act, which the House passed last week, the House and Senate will have to reach a budget deal by April 15th or else forgo their pay until they do. The Senate may take up the bill this coming week.
The amounts of the annual spending bills are allocated based on the budget. There’s no guarantee that getting budgets passed on time means appropriations bills being passed on time, but we can always hope.