July 18, 2014

It's Time to Replace The Budget Act

David M. Primo

Senior Affiliated Scholar
Summary

As we approach the 40th anniversary of The Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974, David Primo, associate professor of political science and business administration at the University of Rochester, says it's time to replace the law.

Contact us
To speak with a scholar or learn more on this topic, visit our contact page.

As we approach the 40th anniversary of The Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974, David Primo, associate professor of political science and business administration at the University of Rochester, says it's time to replace the law.  

Below, Primo reviews why simply reforming the Budget Act cannot fix the nation's budget process.

• Many point to the breakdown of the federal budget process as evidence of the gridlock and poisonous atmosphere in Washington. But what's perhaps most remarkable is simply how irrelevant the budget process has become.   

• First, the Budget Act lacks the enforcement mechanisms necessary to compel Congress to follow it (it is also riddled with loopholes that allow Congress to evade whatever limits it sets). Congress must choose to voluntarily follow and enforce the law—which it seldom does.  

• Second, the Budget Act does not require Congress' annual review of entitlements and interest payments on the debt—which already make up nearly two-thirds of the federal budget. Thus, more than half of the budget simply runs on 'autopilot.'  

• Attempts at budget process reform that don’t address entitlements will have minimal impact; but simply weaving entitlements into the current system, which is largely ignored, isn’t the answer, either.  

• Simply put, the current process is too weak and too far gone to be saved with incremental modifications. 

• The best approach to improve the federal budget process is the creation of a new Budget Act with real, strong, and enforceable budget rules that apply to all spending, and require Congress to meet spending or deficit targets. A Constitutional amendment would be the ideal reform, as it holds the best hope for making budget rules stick.