July 12, 2023

Congressional Budget Act Turns 49

Nearly five decades later, reform is long overdue

In 1974, Congress took a bold step in the way Washington manages its budget. The Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act (often referred to as the Congressional Budget Act, or “the CBA”), was landmark law that birthed not just our Committee, but also the Senate Budget Committee and the Congressional Budget Office.
The CBA restored the power of the purse back into the hands of the people’s representatives. Congress recognized that the way Washington spends was broken, that the House and Senate must serve as not only the sacred stewards of the nation’s balance sheet but must be a check on the runaway spending of the Executive Branch.
Under the CBA, Congress is tasked with setting fiscal policy for each year, establishing a budget blueprint that in turn determines how much appropriators can spend on federal programs, and what changes (if any) should be made to entitlement spending and the level of revenues.
That was 49 years ago. The law describing how the congressional budget process should work remains largely the same as when it was first enacted. But increasingly, the actions of Congress in implementing fiscal policy bear little resemblance to the orderly, thoughtful process envisioned by the CBA’s authors. At this crucial moment in our nation’s fiscal history, with debt spiraling out of control, the CBA has been abused and ignored by Congress and Presidents alike to fulfill short-sighted political imperatives rather than to set out a clear and sustainable fiscal path.

Since its enactment:

  • Congress has not passed a budget on time in over 25 years.
  • The national debt has climbed to over $32 trillion.
  • Controls on new spending and deficits have been repeatedly delayed or waived entirely.
  • Fiscal decisions are routinely made only in the heat of a crisis, limiting the ability of Committees and individual Members to participate meaningfully in the spending process.

For nearly five decades, Washington has been clawing away at the CBA’s relevance. Reform is long overdue.
Which is why House Budget Committee Chairman Jodey Arrington (R-TX) is leading a bipartisan effort with Ranking Member Brendan Boyle (D-PA) to look at how we can reform not just the CBA but the entirety of our federal budget process.
Our efforts will focus on (but not be limited to):

  • Achieving bicameral agreement on a budget framework that will guide subsequent fiscal legislation.
    • Over the past 49 years, Congress has agreed to a budget resolution 36 times.
    • Yet Congress has only met the statutory deadline to pass a budget resolution six times.
  • Completing a robust annual appropriations process in a timely manner. It has been over 25 years since Congress has completed the entire appropriations process on schedule, leading to last-minute spending agreements passed in the middle of the night that have fueled our nation’s debt and deficits.
  • The most effective models to address the long-term projected increase in debt. Spending in the first nine months of Fiscal Year 2023 alone is up $455 billion from last year—a ten percent increase. Over the next 30 years, CBO sees the debt rising to 181 percent of GDP, driven by spending rising from 21 percent of GDP (50-year average) to 29.1 percent of GDP in thirty years.

If we don’t change course, the U.S. will experience a debt crisis. House Budget Committee Republicans are dedicated to working across the aisle to fix the underlying problems in our budget process.

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