Five Facts on the Budgeting Process

Five Facts on the Budgeting Process

As the federal government marches slowly towards a debt ceiling crisis, some have laid the blame for our ballooning debt and deficits on a broken federal budget process. Under the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974, the White House and Congress must undergo a yearly process of developing a budget for federal expenditures for the following fiscal year, which starts each October. While these formal guidelines were created to help bring more order and restraint to federal spending, the process hasn’t slowed the growth of our national debt nor helped Congress spend money more efficiently.

Here are Five Facts on a budgeting process that has gone awry.

1. Presidents must submit their budget before the first Monday in February.

The budgeting process begins when the White House sends Congress a budget listing out what each government agency thinks it needs to operate for the coming fiscal year. Under law, this budget must be submitted no later than the first Monday in February. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office analyzes the budget and provides a report to the House and Senate Budget Committees, which must then issue resolutions setting the spending limits for the fiscal year.

2. The House and Senate must begin considering their annual spending bills in the spring.

All of the discretionary spending in the federal government (that is, the money Congress chooses to spend in a given year, as compared to mandatory expenses like Medicare) falls under the jurisdiction of one of 12 spending bills. The House and Senate Appropriations Committees must each produce their own set of 12 bills for their chamber of Congress to consider.

3. Congress is expected to finalize any reconciliation legislation by June 15.

It is almost always the case that the House and Senate versions of each appropriations bill are not identical to one another. When that happens, the Appropriations Committees meet to hash out the differences and create a unified bill that both chambers can pass, a process known as reconciliation. While the 1974 law sets a target date of June 15 for finalizing the reconciliation process, in practice, this can change based on the timing of earlier steps in the budgeting process.

4. The president has 10 days to veto any spending legislation that comes to their desk.

While there is no deadline for the president to sign appropriations bills into law, the president has only 10 days to veto any legislation they do not support. If 10 days pass and the president neither issues a veto nor signs the bill into law, it becomes a law regardless. If the president does veto the legislation, Congress can force it into law anyway if two-thirds of the House and Senate vote to override the veto.

5. This process has been completed on time only four times in the last 50 years.

While the 1974 budgeting reforms set a clear procedure for setting and enacting a federal budget, in practice, Washington has typically failed to deliver. The last time all 12 appropriations were individually passed and signed into law was 1996. Filling in the gaps has been a combination of continuing resolutions that keep the government temporarily funded at existing levels and omnibuses that bundle multiple appropriations bills into a single piece of legislation.