What About the Budget Act?

The Honorable Michael McConnell, who not only served as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit but was also assistant general counsel of the Office of Management and Budget from 1981-83, has an op-ed in the WSJ on the collective failure to comply with the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act. This law was enacted in 1974 and established specific budgeting procedures for Congress and the executive — procedures that have not been followed. Among other things, the Act requires the President submit, and Congress pass, a budget scored by CBO, yet the Senate has not passed a budget since 2009. Writes McConnell:

This defiance of the Budget Act is responsible for the current blamefest in Washington. The law was intended to bring transparency and timeliness to debates over taxing and spending. All proposals are public, and all are scored by the CBO according to the same metric. This makes it difficult for politicians to shift blame. This year, without a genuine presidential budget, or any Senate budget, the negotiations are shrouded in fog. The president may tell press conferences that he proposed $3 trillion in spending reductions, but there is no way to know what that means without a budget. . . .

The Budget Act was designed to force all competing plans to be disclosed publicly and evaluated according to the same baselines and criteria. It is too late to meet the Act’s deadlines, but our leaders could still comply with its spirit.

If the president would put his plan into budgetary language, as the House already has done, and make it available to the CBO, the public could readily see who is being serious in the negotiations. We would know whether we have been offered a bracing helping of peas, or a misleading mess of pottage. As it is, the president has put a covered dish on the table and, thanks to noncompliance with the Budget Act, we do not know what it contains.