All but one American state has some constitutional requirement for a balanced budget but few of them operate this way. Moreover, in 1979 the federal government enacted a public law that required a balanced budget by 1982. The law has not been repealed but neither have budgets become balanced. These observations point toward a dichotomy within the theory of democratic budgeting. One side of this dichotomy treats budgeting as an administrative matter of selecting rules for rational action. The other side recognizes that democratic budgeting has political character that cannot be reduced wholly to self-enforcing rules. Personal budgeting is a simple matter of individual rationality. In contrast, democratic budgeting entails interaction among individuals, and that interaction is not readily reducible to individual rationality. At this point, democratic budgeting butts against Carl Schmitt’s (1932) recognition of the autonomy of the political within society.