Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget

CRFB Publishes Analysis of Budget Process in the FY 2016 Budget Resolutions

Apr 16, 2015 | Budget Process

With the House and Senate preparing to go to conference to work out the differences between their budget resolutions, we published a paper Tuesday outlining the various budget process measures contained in the respective resolutions as well as our recommendations about which should be kept. Both budget resolutions contain several items that could help or hurt the process, and we suggest that the conference committee hammer out these differences in line with the recommendations we've made in the Better Budget Process Initiative. We also published a blog and press release containing some recommendations not related to budget process.

Click here to read the full paper.

Both budgets tackle process reform by enacting provisions to address the lack of accountability, transparency, and long-term focus in current budgeting.

Accountability

  • Timing Shifts - The Senate budget excludes the effect of timing shifts in budget enforcement, helping to alleviate this budget gimmickry.
  • Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) Spending - Both budgets bypass the Budget Control Act caps to backfill the defense budget by overfunding the OCO account, though a Senate budget point of order requires it to be offset.
  • Fending Off CHIMPs - The Senate budget sunsets the improper use of this budget category, ending its use by 2021.
  • Limiting Trust Fund Transfers - With both the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) and the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) Trust Fund on the brink of insolvency, the budgets seek to limit transfers from other funds without extra measures for accountability. The House budget requires HTF revenue transfers to be scored as new costs and SSDI transfers to be accompanied by measures that help strengthen Social Security; the Senate budget makes HTF transfers receive a long-term score.

Transparency

  • CBO Scoring - The budgets instruct the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to make several changes to its scoring process. The House budget reiterates the House rule requiring CBO to conduct dynamic scoring and asks for fair-value estimates of government credit programs which it can then use as the official scores for budget enforcement. On the other hand, the Senate requires dynamic and fair-value estimates as supplemental information, limits consideration of legislation before CBO has scored it, and asks CBO and the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) to provide information on distributional effects of tax changes and effects of tax expenditures.

Long-Term Focus

  • Long-Term Deficit Point of Order - For legislation that increases deficits by more than $5 billion in any of the next 4 decades, the Senate budget implements a 60-vote point of order except for legislation repealing or changing the Affordable Care Act. The House has a similar rule except it only applies to mandatory spending, so any decreases in revenue would be allowed.
  • Long-Term Estimates - The Senate requires CBO to issue estimates for effects in the second and third decade for large spending bills (or at the request of the House or Senate Budget Committee Chair).

Other

  • The Conrad Rule - Additionally, the Senate would remove the Conrad Rule that requires reconciliation be used only on deficit-reducing legislation within the 10-year window. The final conference agreement should maintain the Conrad rule, keeping reconcilation focused on deficit reduction.
  • House Policy Statement - The House also includes a non-binding commitment to further process reform, though they also mention that future legislation extending tax expenditures should not be considered a cost, which would make costs disappear from the budget process.

For more detailed information on all of these aspects of the budget resolutions, you can read the full paper here.