President Obama missed an important deadline today. He is legally required to submit a budget to Congress by today for the next fiscal year. The White House announced that it will do so until March. This marks is the fifth time in six years that the President Obama overlooked this important deadline, signaling that he is not serious about fixing Washington's finances.
Created in the Budget and Accounting Act of 1921, regular order is a year-long process that determines how the federal government spends taxpayer dollars. The process begins on the first Monday in February, the deadline for the President to release his budget proposal. Each budget committee in Congress is required to release its own budget resolution shortly thereafter, and ultimately agree to a budget by April 15. Then, Congress is supposed to appropriate these funds in 12 separate bills using the committee process. This process is very transparent, and each member of Congress has an opportunity to offer amendments.
This process of federal budgeting has completely broken down in Washington. The last time the full federal budget process was completed on time was 20 years ago. Currently we see Congress resort to short-term stop-gap measures. These plans are rushed through Congress on the threat of government shut down, too fast for lawmakers to determine what’s in then. This past moth, Congress alarmingly agreed to a continuing resolution of only 3 days.
Whenever the regular federal budget process grinds to a halt as it has now, government spending grows. Transparent budget negotiations deteriorate to closed-door conference committee sessions and thousand-page omnibus spending bills like we saw this past month. The former Washington practice of wheeling and dealing for pork-barrel earmarks has effectively been replaced with a system where everyone’s pet-projects are now buried in these legislative behemoths. This is one reason why we’ve seen such runaway spending growth in Washington over recent history.
Policymakers currently show little willingness to return to regular budget order and meet these deadlines they are legally required to follow. Senate Democrats seem to share the President’s disinterest in producing a budget on time—with the exception of this past year, they hadn't bothered to produce one in four years. The House of Representatives reliably passes a budget resolution every year, but even it routinely fails to complete the appropriations process. The House passed 4 appropriations bills on the floor this past summer. The Senate passed zero.
The omnibus appropriations bill that passed Congress in January is the pinnacle of the breakdown. Rolling 12 appropriations bills together in one massive package, called an omnibus, and fast-tracking it to the President's desk is hugely concerning because it doesn’t allow for close scrutiny of how taxpayer dollars are being spent. It prevents Congressional appropriators from combing through the budget and making tough decisions about budgeting and spending.
If the Washington were serious about getting America’s fiscal house in order, then they should return to regular order. Sticking to the budget deadlines they are legally required to follow is an important first step. We can’t rely on eleventh-hour, short-term continuing resolutions forever. American taxpayers deserve a regular and transparent budgeting process, so that they can see how their elected officials plan to spend their hard-earned tax dollars.