The Budget Committee is one of the Senate’s newer committees, having been created by the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974. While the Committee has seen its duties and functions change over the years due to the enactment of new laws and changes to Senate rules, the Committee remains responsible for drafting Congress’ annual budget plan and for monitoring the federal budget.
Why was the Budget Committee created?
The Constitution of the United States vests the Congress with key budgetary powers. These powers, often referred to collectively as the “power of the purse,” are found in Article I of the Constitution. But the Constitution does not specifically detail the procedures Congress should follow in exercising this role, and it delegates to the House of Representatives and the Senate the power for each to develop its own rules and processes. As a result, Congress’ approach to budgeting was decentralized and fragmented for most of the first 200 years of the nation.
In the period leading up to 1974, Congress’ ad hoc budgeting process—and the inability to effectively coordinate revenue and spending policies—led to two negative outcomes. One was delays in the appropriations process, funding gaps, and excessive reliance on stopgap funding bills known as continuing resolutions. The other was persistent and growing budget deficits that were uncontrollable under the budgeting conventions of the time. (An abandonment of the budget process in recent years—the Democrat-controlled Senate has not passed a budget plan for two consecutive years, nor did they present one at all this year—has again posed a serious barrier to bringing deficits and debt under control.)
When the White House began in the early 1970s to exercise impoundment authority, in which the administration withheld congressionally approved funding from agencies, Congress viewed this as an attempt by the White House to undermine the Legislative Branch’s “power of the purse.”
In response to these challenges, Congress passed the 1974 Act, which established the House and Senate Budget Committees with the mandate of publicly presenting and adopting an annual budget to manage the nation’s finances and establish a concrete fiscal vision.
What does the Budget Committee do?
The Budget Committee’s principal responsibility is to develop an annual concurrent resolution on the budget to serve as the framework for congressional action on spending, revenue, and debt-limit legislation each year. The resolution is known as a “concurrent resolution” because it is jointly agreed to by the House and the Senate, but the adoption of the resolution does not result in a new law of the United States. Indeed, it is a common misperception that presidents can sign or veto budget resolutions. In fact, a budget resolution enters into force as soon as it is passed by both Houses of Congress.
The Budget Committee is also responsible for the enforcement of this resolution, which it accomplishes by informing Members when budget “points of order” apply because of violations to the budget, and by working with other committees during the crafting of legislation to stop potential violations. It also tracks the appropriations process throughout the year to make sure that spending levels in appropriations bills conform to the levels set forth in the budget resolution. (For more information about the appropriations tracking process for this fiscal year, please click here.)
Through the budget resolution, the Committee can also initiate and enforce the budget reconciliation process (to bring existing law into agreement with budget resolution assumptions). The Committee also holds hearings on the economy, hearings to monitor the performance of government agencies, and hearings to consider nominations for the president’s Office of Management and Budget.
To learn more about the Budget Committee’s role and responsibilities, please see the comprehensive history that was produced during the 109th Congress.