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July 11, 2014 4:17 PM 40 Years of the Congressional Budget Act: Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off

By Ed Kilgore

Tomorrow marks the 40th anniversary of Richard Nixon’s signing of the Congressional Budget Act of 1974, which created the “budget process” as we’ve known it since. It’s gone through a lot of transformations, from the radical use of “reconciliation” by Republicans to implement the Reagan Budget to various efforts to limit the budget’s use to fiscal issues, to the “sequestration” of appropriations introduced in the mid-1980s that came back like a bad dream in 2011. But as budget wizard Stan Collender concludes today in a New York Times op-ed, the whole thing’s run its course:

[T]he budget act has failed so completely that it’s hard to justify why it hasn’t been repealed or replaced by now….
[F]our decades later, the budget act remains on the books, but the problems it was intended to remedy are far worse. The House and Senate budget committees are so unpopular that many members of Congress refuse to serve on them. Congress hasn’t adopted a budget resolution in years, even though the law requires it. Debates over spending and revenue are clouded by partisanship and political showboating. Compromise is a dirty word.
A golden era of federal budget policy that the act had been expected to initiate has actually ended up more like the fiscal dark ages.

For a guy like Collender, admitting the budget process has become entirely irrelevant has to be like a theologian doubting God’s existence. But he’s right: it’s gotten to where the arcane language and procedures of the “budget process” have simply become window-dressing for agreements that ain’t happening and fights that have more to do with wildly different visions of what the government should be doing than anything truly fiscal. There’s not much point in it any more.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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