Thursday, March 21, 2013

Passing a budget

A popular claim to criticize both President Obama and the Democratic controlled Senate is to say that they haven't passed a budget and are violating the Constitution, in doing so.  Sarah Palin made this claim at CPAC about the Senate and criticized the President in the past, for the same reason. 

Palin claimed that a failure to pass a budget is in violation of Article 1 Section 9 Clause 7.  But that says nothing about a budget resolution.  It wasn't added to law until the 1974 Budget Act.  But it isn't strictly enforced.  Every once in a while I'll read that Barack Obama has not passed a budget in his presidency or whatever.  As PolitiFact wrote, "the president doesn't pass a budget.  That's Congress' job." Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense noted, "the president has no role in passing a budget."  Ideally, we want to look at Congress.  Specifically, is it unconstitutional for them not to pass a budget?

Article 1 Section 9 Clause 7 states: No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law; and a regular Statement and Account of the Receipts and Expenditures of all public Money shall be published from time to time.

The Congressional Research Service notes that the clause "...does not restrict Congress in appropriating moneys in the treasury."  They also note that the Supreme Court "has also recognized that Congress has a wide discretion with regard to the extent to which it shall prescribe details of expenditures for which it appropriates funds and has approved the frequent practice of making general appropriations of large amounts to be allotted and expended as directed by designated government agencies.”

FactCheck notes that Congress does not have to spell out how it's going to spend the money, some details are left up to federal agencies.  Congress appropriates money through appropriations bills.  According to Louis Fischer, a constitutional scholar, Congress complies with that clause by appropriating funds each year, even if the Senate does not pass a budget.  He noted that the Budget Act did not even exist until 1974. 

Since the Act was passed, Congress has only met the deadline six times.  Congress failed to complete a budget act four other years before now.  Those years were 1999, 2003, 2005, and 2007.  Let's take a look at who was in power then.  I'm using the year prior to the year listed above as usually it is passed a year in advance.

1998President: Bill Clinton (D)
Senate: Republicans 55-45
House: Republicans 226-207

President: George W. Bush (R)
Senate: Split 50/50
House: Republicans 221-212

President: George W. Bush (R)
Senate: Republicans 51-48
House: Republicans 229-205

President: George W. Bush
Senate: Republicans 55-44
House: Republicans 231-202

So where was the complaints from the Republican party about it not being constitutional all these other times? 

I digress.

The Washington Post noted correctly that a budget does not have the force of law.  They have no incentive to do so.

It's interesting to blame the Senate for not passing a budget but it's not unconstitutional to not pass a budget.  Let's try that again.  The Senate is not required to pass a budget by the Constitution.  They are required to by law of the Budget Act of 1974 but there is no penalty for not passing a budget.  It has happened in the past by Republicans. 

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