The Budget Committee is one of the Senate’s newer committees, 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 budget responsibilities, the Committee remains responsible for drafting budget plans for Congress and for monitoring and enforcing rules surrounding spending, revenue, and the federal budget.
Why was the Budget Committee created?
Article I of the Constitution of the United States assigns to Congress key budgetary functions, often referred to collectively as the “power of the purse.” But the Constitution did 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, the approach to budgeting was decentralized and fragmented for most of the first 200 years of Congressional history.
In the period leading up to 1974, Congress made several attempts to reform its ad hoc budgeting processes. These included requiring an overall fiscal plan, combining all appropriations into one bill, and establishing statutory spending limits. All of these efforts were unsuccessful. A debt limit increase bill enacted in 1972 (P.L. 92-599) established a Congressional Joint Study Committee on Budget Control. The final report of that Committee, issued in 1973, recommended the establishment of Budget Committees in the House and Senate.
At the same time, Congress disagreed with the Executive Branch’s use of its impoundment authority, in which it withheld previously enacted spending.
So, Congress passed the 1974 Act, which established the House and Senate Budget Committees with the mandate of publicly presenting and adopting a Congressional budget to manage the nation’s finances and establish a concrete fiscal vision. In addition, the Act made changes to the impoundment process.
What does the Budget Committee do?
The Budget Committee’s principal responsibility is to develop a concurrent resolution on the budget to serve as the framework for congressional action on spending, revenue, and debt-limit legislation. Each chamber introduces its own resolution, which, when jointly agreed to by the House and the Senate, becomes the so called “budget resolution.” The adoption of the resolution does not result in a new law of the United States, as the president does not sign the resolution.
The Senate Budget Committee is also responsible for the enforcement of this concurrent resolution and associated budget laws. Budget enforcement is accomplished by informing senators when budget “points of order” apply because of violations to the budget, and by working with other committees during the crafting of legislation to address potential violations. The committee 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.
Through the budget resolution, the Committee can also initiate and enforce the budget reconciliation process, a piece of legislation that is written to bring about specific identified fiscal goals. A reconciliation bill, if passed and signed by the president, carries with it the full force of law. The Committee also holds hearings on the economy, oversight 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.