Federal Budget


budget, inclusive list of proposed expenditures and expected receipts of any person, enterprise, or government for a specified period, usually one year. Budget estimates are based on the expenditures and receipts of a similar previous period, modified by any expected changes. The governmental budget originated during the late 18th cent. in England.

The U.S. Budget

In the United States, the president was not required to submit an annual federal budget estimate until the passage (1921) of the Budget and Accounting Act. According to the act, the president must annually submit to Congress a budget that shows the condition of the Treasury at the end of the last completed fiscal year, its estimated condition at the end of the current fiscal year, and its estimated condition at the end of the ensuing year if the budget proposals are carried out; the revenues and expenditures during the last completed year and the estimates thereof for the current year; recommendations of provisions for meeting the revenues and expenditures for the ensuing year; and any other data considered helpful to Congress in its determination of the government's financial policy. No other administrative officer is allowed to make revenue recommendations unless asked to do so by Congress.

To help the president, the Budget and Accounting Act also created the Bureau of the Budget, under the Treasury Dept., to receive, compile, and criticize estimates of expenditure needs submitted by the various governmental services and to study in detail all government services and recommend to the president any changes that will increase their economy and efficiency. The bureau was transferred (1939) to the executive office of the president, and reconstituted (1970) as the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), with additional functions involving the review of organizational structure within the executive branch of the federal government. The national budget is often regarded as one of the major policy statements of a presidential administration.

The U.S. Budget Deficit

Since the beginning of World War II the national budget has grown immensely, in part because of increased defense expenditures. Revenues have not kept pace with expenditures, and the federal budget has had annual deficits since 1969. During the 1960s and 70s, the overall economy grew faster than the deficits. In the 1980s, however, annual deficits grew to over $200 billion, reaching a record high of $290 billion in 1992.

Budget reforms passed in 1974 mandated congressional budget resolutions to serve as alternatives to the president's proposed budget, and budget impasses became common. The 1985 Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Act tried to control America's escalating deficits by giving the U.S. comptroller general the right to order spending cuts if the president and Congress did not reduce the deficit, but the bill was ultimately declared unconstitutional. There have been repeated calls for balanced budget and line-item veto amendments to the Constitution, but no such measures have been passed. In 1996 a law establishing a limited presidential line-item veto was passed by Congress, but it was ruled unconstitutional in 1998. In the late 1990s budget-tightening measures—aided by the U.S. economic boom—reduced the deficit and led to two consecutive federal budget surpluses (1998–99); back-to-back surpluses had last occurred in 1956–57. In 1998, President Clinton presented to Congress a balanced federal budget, the first such budget since 1969. A balanced budget was maintained through late 2001, but tax cuts, the cost of President Bush's "war on terrorism," increased defense and other spending, and the effects of an economic recession produced a deficit again beginning with the 2002 budget. The 2004 deficit reached a new record level, $412.6 billion, a figure that did not include tens of billions spent on the occupation and reconstruction of Iraq, but it dropped in subsequent years until a financial crisis and severe recession caused it to rise to $455 billion in 2008 and soar to $1.4 trillion in 2009.


See J. D. Savage, Balanced Budgets and American Politics (1988); D. S. Ippolito, Uncertain Legacies: Federal Budget Policies from Roosevelt through Reagan (1990).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

Federal Budget: Selected full-text books and articles

To Provide for the General Welfare: A History of the Federal Spending Power
Theodore Sky.
University of Delaware Press, 2003
The Politics of Public Budgeting: Getting and Spending, Borrowing and Balancing
Irene S. Rubin.
Chatham House Publishers, 2000 (4th edition)
Budget Path: How Feds Can Avert the Fiscal Crisis: The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform Proposes a Balanced Plan of Spending Cuts, Entitlement Changes, and Tax Reforms to Avoid the Looming Federal Debt Crisis
Goldwein, Marc.
The Public Manager, Vol. 40, No. 2, Summer 2011
How the Congressional Budget Office Earned Its Clout
Juffras, Jason.
The Public Manager, Vol. 40, No. 4, Winter 2011
FAVORS IN FINE PRINT: Defense Spending Bill Packed with $11.8B in Earmarks
Heath, David.
Investigative Reporters and Editors, Inc. The IRE Journal, Vol. 31, No. 1, January/February 2008
Is U.S. Federal Debt Too Large?
Amaral, Pedro.
Economic Commentary (Cleveland), No. 2010-10, August 24, 2010
Downsizing the Federal Government
Chris Edwards.
Cato Institute, 2005
Inside OMB: Politics and Process in the President's Budget Office
Shelley Lynne Tomkin.
M. E. Sharpe, 1998
The Evolution of the Federal Budget Process
Anderson, Barry; Davis, Sandy; Gullo, Theresa.
Journal of Public Budgeting, Accounting & Financial Management, Vol. 15, No. 2, Summer 2003
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Fiscal Follies: The Real Budget Problem and How to Fix It
Gale, William G.; Orszag, Peter R.
Brookings Review, Vol. 21, No. 4, Fall 2003
The Never-Ending Budget Battle: Writing Rules to Stop Congress from Spending Is Hopeless
de Rugy, Veronique.
Reason, Vol. 43, No. 8, January 2012
Do Budget Deficits Affect Long-Term Interest Rates? U.S. Federal Budget Deficits Are Back Big Time. What Will Be Their Long-Term Consequences? Seven Big Thinkers Enter the Ring, Gloves Up. (A Symposium of Views)
The International Economy, Vol. 17, No. 3, Summer 2003
Four Observations about the Federal Budget
Elmendorf, Douglas W.
Business Economics, Vol. 46, No. 3, July 2011
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
The Federal Budget and Financial System: A Management Perspective
Joseph F. Moraglio; Harry D. Kerrigan.
Quorum Books, 1986
The Budgetary Process in the United States
Arthur Smithies.
McGraw-Hill, 1955
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