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A “Joint” Budget Resolution? More Harm Than Good

The House and Senate Budget Committees have held hearings in recent weeks on ways to improve the congressional budget process. Unfortunately, many of the proposed changes would do more harm than good — including a proposal to insert the President into the budget resolution process.

Congress is supposed to design its own budget plan each spring, after examining the President’s proposals. That plan, called a budget resolution, isn’t a law; it provides the framework for Congress then to enact legislation to meet its budget targets: e.g., the annual appropriations bills and perhaps changes to tax and entitlement laws. The President can veto that later legislation if he disagrees with it.

Recently, some have suggested turning the budget resolution into a law (technically, a “joint resolution”) that the President could then sign or veto. This, they say, would enhance budget coordination — or if Congress and the President disagree, it would enable them to begin addressing the issues in the spring so they could work out compromises earlier than under the current system.

But upon close examination, the proposal appears to do more harm than good. As Rudy Penner, former CBO Director, recently told the House Budget Committee, “… [I]t would be impractical to reach an agreement between the president and the two houses of Congress early in the year. … [T]he Congress has had problems agreeing with itself. Finding an agreement with the president would probably involve a protracted bargaining session that would take far too much time.” We’d add that when Congress and the President are on the same wavelength, there is no need for a joint resolution.

Moreover, as we have

, turning the budget resolution into a joint resolution signed by the President may tempt the President, the Congressional leadership, and the Budget Committees to start writing major budget laws — not just plans and targets — into that joint resolution, which would usurp the budgetary powers of the other committees.