The Annual Budget Process – Where Are We Now?

The House and Senate return this week from their spring recess with the seeds of a summer budget stalemate already planted.

As required by law, in February President Obama released the Administration’s budget request for fiscal year 2013 (which begins on Oct. 1). Although just a proposal, the annual request serves as the jumping off point of the annual budget process, and in this, a critical election year, it sets out the president’s vision for the country’s future.

In March, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI), released “Path to Prosperity,” a Republican alternative to the President’s proposal. The full House passed the GOP budget resolution on March 29.

Budget Chairman Paul Ryan

The Senate hasn’t produced a budget yet, even though its deadline for doing so was March 30, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has said the Senate won’t pass an actual budget resolution this year. Instead Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND) introduced something called a “deeming resolution” which sets spending for 2013 at the levels the President and Congress agreed to in last summer’s Budget Control Act. Later today, Senator Conrad’s committee plans to mark up legislation on a budget resolution that deals with spending levels beginning in FY2014.

It’s already clear to Hill watchers that with elections looming, little concrete progress will occur towards the actual enactment of an FY2013 budget, at least not until after November.

In the mean time, the conflicting Democratic and Republican budget plans have become fodder in the increasingly tense political debate. Rep. Ryan has called the President's budget "reckless" and a "dismal failure of leadership" for not doing more to address the deficit. President Obama, has, in turn, referred to Rep. Ryan's budget as “thinly veiled social Darwinism” for expanding tax cuts for the wealthy while cutting assistance programs for the needy.

There are sure to be plenty more budgetary fireworks, if not actual progress, in Washington this summer – and not just on July 4th.

For more on the federal budget process, check out NPP’s Federal Budget 101 website.

UPDATE FROM WASHINGTON, evening of April 17 –  According to The Hill newspaper, Senator Conrad has postponed indefinitely a final committee vote on a budget resolution, probably until after the November elections. Conrad's proposal is based on the recommendations of President Obama’s 2010 bi-partisan fiscal commission – known as the Bowles-Simpson commission after its two co-chairs. According to The Hill, Conrad's plan lacked enough support among committee Democrats to be passed by the committee. See the story from The Hill here.