It is bad enough that, after more than 1,000 days since passing a budget resolution, the Senate has decided to forgo this fundamental obligation once again this year. Even worse is the absurd excuse by Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D–NV) that a budget resolution is unnecessary because Congress already has one—in the form of the Budget Control Act (BCA).
Reid and other Senate leaders contend that the spending cap in the BCA, the product of last year’s debt ceiling debate, is a sufficient proxy for a budget resolution. This nonsensical claim willfully misrepresents the scope of a budget resolution and reflects how thoroughly the Senate majority has abandoned its fundamental governing responsibilities.
It ensures that, although the House will adopt a budget resolution, Congress will stumble along for at least another year without a coherent bicameral plan to begin addressing the government’s looming fiscal crisis—because the Senate has simply chosen not to consider one. If taken seriously, after three straight fiscal years without a congressional budget resolution, this decision could spell the end of any coherent practice of congressional budgeting itself, simply by neglect.
A budget resolution is a broad budget framework that sets priorities for spending and taxes. It guides how much will be spent and where spending should be allocated among government programs such as national defense, transportation, welfare, Medicare, and so on. A budget resolution also establishes what tax policies and major program reforms should be adopted. It charts the budget course in a rational, coherent way for all the spending and tax bills that follow.
The BCA was never more than a poor substitute for a budget resolution—a rushed, eleventh-hour “solution” to a manufactured debt ceiling crisis. Its cap on discretionary budget authority affects only about one-third of total spending, and it is riddled with deliberate loopholes that make the limit all but meaningless. Apart from that, the BCA contained a requirement for a “super committee” to identify at least $1.2 trillion for additional deficit reduction. That process has failed, triggering a crude enforcement procedure that now threatens devastating cuts in defense spending and must be rewritten.
But the BCA offers no sense of budgeting priorities (as a budget resolution does), no recommendations for entitlement reforms, no overall direction for major spending and tax policies. To say, as Senator Reid did, that because of the BCA, “We do not need to bring a budget to the floor this year—it’s done, we don’t need to do it,” is to disavow a fundamental obligation of governing.
The Senate’s planned inaction on a budget is a cavalier choice not to take its governing responsibilities seriously. It should be judged on those terms.