US Budget Time – The March Hare of Madness

By Erin Drushel

[avatar user=”ErinDrushel” size=”thumbnail” align=”left”]Erin Drushel[/avatar]

So let me get this straight…everybody and his brother in Washington has a budget which goes through the whole rigmarole of getting passed at one level, all while knowing the likelihood of passage at the other level is probably non-existent…

There really is no budget process is there?

“You keep using that word.  I do not think it means what you think it means.” – Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride

As a Canadian, the US budgetary process baffles me.  In Canada, the process is so much simpler and frankly more effective, even if you disagree with the final budget.  First, you talk to the public.  Then you design your budget.  Then you introduce it.  Then it goes through a committee where you make amendments – if you’re a good government, you accept some of the amendments from the opposition – especially those that make sense.  Then the opposition huffs and puffs that you didn’t do enough in either direction and, finally, it passes and the business of government moves along…

I don’t mean to trivialize the Canadian process as it is grueling work to try and balance everything.  But here in the US, it is nowhere near that simple.

Some interpretation required

Part of the confusion in the US is due to media coverage.  The term “budget” is thrown around when in reality the media means “budget proposals.”  There’s a big difference.  The first is real-time money and planning for the future; the second is all of Congress’ hopes and dreams – and sometimes utter fantasies – of what the two houses would like to see in the budget.

This is part of the process.

Why not just do away with the posturing and puffery of separate budget proposals…people know where you stand!  You just had a presidential election where every party highlighted their priorities.  Staying up all night to vote on a bunch of items that may or may not become relevant in the “real” budget sounds like a make-work project.  Instead, both houses of Congress should be working for weeks and staying up all night on legislation that will actually help Americans sooner rather than later.

Another problem with the process is that President Obama hasn’t lived up to his obligations.  The President of the United States is required by law to submit his / her budget proposal by the first Monday in February.  President Obama didn’t – and won’t – until sometime in April.  The president’s proposal is supposed to be the start of the budget process.

By not bringing forward his proposals on time, the president has been criticized for making himself irrelevant in the budget process.  I’d be inclined to agree, however, even if the president puts forward his budget proposal there is no requirement for Congress to act on it.  What?  Doesn’t ignoring a president’s proposal de facto make him / her irrelevant to the process?

Confused enough yet?

Frankly, the act of getting down to business takes much longer than it should.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Despite the run-around leading up to the actual budget and appropriations process, the good news is that both houses of Congress voted to stave off a government shut down  …for a few months anyway.

The bad news is there still isn’t a concrete budget plan for the United States going forward despite all of the various budgets flying through Congress.

And the Ugly?  This is the process.  Welcome to American democracy.

– Erin Drushel