Congress Should Follow Its Budget Rules

By McKinley, Craig R. | National Defense, September 2015 | Go to article overview

Congress Should Follow Its Budget Rules


McKinley, Craig R., National Defense


As we move toward the end of fiscal year 2015 and the official Oct. 1 beginning of fiscal year 2016, once again we find ourselves facing the prospect of no approved budget reflected in appropriations bills.

It seems to have become a routine annual event that one fiscal year passes into another without the federal government having finished an annual budget. This budget impasse - and the political theater that has seemingly become permanently attached to it - has to stop. As the president and CEO of die National Defense Industrial Association, my principal concern is for the defense budget, which provides the funding for the Pentagon and ultimately, the association's 1,600 member companies who comprise the defense industrial base.

Although I referenced that the federal government has not completed a budget, what that actually means is that the United States Congress has - once again - failed to complete the budget by following its own process. The president by comparison finished his budget proposal and submitted it to Congress in February. Congress again has been unable to complete its work and get a budget across the finish line. This is disturbing because - although it is increasingly less obvious to the public - Congress actually has a very good process for doing so.

When the nation was first founded, the calendar year and fiscal year were the same, each beginning on Jan. 1. The budget for the nation was prepared and enacted by Congress - exercising its constitutionally granted power of the purse - and the president as chief executive distributed the funds as appropriated. This was the budgetary practice until 1842 when the calendar year and fiscal year were separated with the latter being moved to July 1. The logic for this adjustment was so that new members of Congress taking office in early January would not have to wait, particularly in the House where tax legislation must originate, for half their elected term to expire before they could have any impact on revenue and spending.

But as time went by, particularly following the progressive era personified by the administration of President Theodore Roosevelt and the emergence of the United States as a major power after World War I, the decentralized structure of Congress, along with the expansion and growing complexity of the federal budget, led to the passage of the Budget and Accounting Act of 1921. This act required the president to submit a draft budget to Congress for consideration and enactment, created the Bureau of the Budget within the Treasury Department to assist, and established the General Accounting Office as an arm of Congress to evaluate and critique budgets and the appropriation of funds.

The beginning of the fiscal year remained July 1, however the broad outline of the existing budget process was established. In the late 1930s, President Franklin Roosevelt moved the Bureau of the Budget - today known as the Office of Management and Budget - from Treasury to the executive office of the president, giving the chief executive even greater involvement in budgets.

In 1974 President Richard Nixon impounded certain appropriated funds arguing that they should not be obligated as Congress internally did not have a structured process for aligning revenues and expenditures. …

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