More Worthless Budget Changes Are Coming From Congress Today

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I posted a few days ago about how a special select joint committee is about to propose a scam-like change to the federal budget process so Congress will only be required to pass a budget every two years instead of the current provision that it be done annually.

(“Required” is total nonsense. As is the case with the current need to do it every year, if this becomes law there will be no penalties if/when Congress fails to enact a budget every other year.)

But now there’s more. Under the guise of better budgeting, when the committee marks up a bill today it will propose two other changes that will accomplish…wait for it…absolutely nothing.

First, the committee is going to recommend that the deadline for Congress to adopt a budget resolution be changed from April 15 to May 1. Second, it’s going to propose eliminating the current limit on the number of terms a House member may serve on the budget committee.

A little history will be helpful in understanding just how inconsequential these two proposed changes would be.

The original deadline for adopting a budget resolution set by the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974 was May 15th. That was changed to April 15th in 1986 because Congress wanted more time to debate and pass appropriations so continuing resolutions would be less likely.

To say the least, it hasn’t worked out as planned. Over the last 20 years (congress.gov only has data going back to 1998), Congress has only adopted a budget resolution by April 15 only three times (2000, 2001, 2004).

But that doesn’t mean May 1 will be any better. In many of the other 17 years, Congress either completely failed to agree on a budget resolution or adopted it after — and some years well after — May 1. Including the 3 years it met the April 15 requirement, over the past two decades Congress would have complied with the new May 1 deadline only 5 times.

During these two decades, all of the appropriations for the coming year were NEVER enacted by October 1st.

In other words, moving the budget resolution deadline back to April 15 had no positive impact on the budget debate and pushing it forward to May 1 will be just as meaningless.

The House Budget Committee’s term limits were originally put in place for two reasons. The utopian view was that getting more people to serve for a short time on the budget committee would increase awareness about the fiscal situation within the House and make responsible decisions more likely.

The more political (and probably more accurate) stance was that the House Appropriations and Ways and Means Committees were worried about a powerful budget committee and insisted on term limits to prevent its members from staying too long and becoming too influential.

It’s hard to see what doing away with the term limits now will accomplish.

Budget expertise doesn’t win any points in today’s hyperpartisan, take-no-prisoners, ideology-over-facts world of Washington, and being a long-tenured member of the budget committee won’t give representatives any additional influence when the question is tax increases or Social Security reductions.

In addition, the budget committees proved long ago that they have little-to-no real power.

As I said in my previous post, these changes, which no doubt will be announced with great fanfare, won’t do anything to make U.S. fiscal policy any better. They are only designed to do one thing: make budget politics easier for representatives and senators.

Follow Stan Collender on Twitter by clicking here at @thebudgetguy.

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