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DOCUMENTS


The Tentacle


February 5, 2013

Constitutional Basis for Federal Budgets

Steve Gottlieb

If you listen to the news or follow posts on Facebook, there is no way to escape the multitude of reports assigning blame for the United States not having a budget in almost four years. What you don’t hear too often is how the process is supposed to work.

 

One comment by a local Democrat political strategist was particularly misleading when he basically said, the fact there is no budget is the Republican’s fault since they control the House of Representatives and the House controls the purse strings.

 

Is that really the case? Does the House alone determine the country’s budget? Are the Senate and president completely devoid of input or responsibility in the budget process? Let’s take a look at how the Constitution lays out the process.

 

Article 1 Section 7 of the United States Constitution states: “All bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills.” This is fairly straight forward. Bills dealing with raising money must originate in the House, but the Senate does have input. It is fair to say that since raising revenue is all part of the budget process, bills proposing a budget should start in the House.

 

The same article and section goes on to state: “Every Bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it become a Law, be presented to the President of the United States; If he approve he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it, with his Objections to that House in which it shall have originated, who shall enter the Objections at large on their Journal, and proceed to reconsider it.” Hence the president is involved in passing the budget as well, since his signature is required for it to become law along with the approval of both the House and Senate.

 

The final paragraph of the section goes on to say: “Every Order, Resolution, or Vote to which the Concurrence of the Senate and House of Representatives may be necessary (except on a question of Adjournment) shall be presented to the President of the United States; and before the Same shall take Effect, shall be approved by him, or being disapproved by him, shall be repassed by two thirds of the Senate and House of Representatives, according to the Rules and Limitations prescribed in the Case of a Bill.” It is clear both houses of the Congress and the president must be and are involved in passing a budget.

 

Article 2 Section 3 addressing the president’s responsibility for informing Congress about the State of The Union stipulates: “He shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.”

 

Common sense would seem to dictate proposing a budget for the House and Senate to consider would be within the president’s purview. Again, indicating the House alone is not responsible for establishing a budget.

 

Now that we know both houses and the president are involved in passing a budget, where does the requirement for a budget come from?

 

To start with Article 1 Section 9 clause 7 says: “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.” This means Congress must pass laws in order for money to be spent. Other than this statement, there really is no constitutional requirement for an annual budget. That comes from “The General Accounting Act of 1921,” better known as the “Budget and Accounting Act.” This law requires the president to submit an annual budget proposal to Congress for the federal government in its entirety.

 

Currently, USC 31 §1105 declares that “(o)n or after the first Monday in January but not later than the first Monday in February of each year, the President shall submit a budget of the United States Government for the following fiscal year.” After that it is up to the Congress to pass budget legislation and the president to sign it into law. Too bad things don’t work quite that easily.

 

So, what is the truth about the current state of our country’s budget?

 

We don’t have one. The House of Representatives passed budgets since the Republican’s regained power after the 2010 mid-term elections. The problem is the Democrat controlled Senate, under the leadership of Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada will not allow these bills to get to the floor for a vote.

 

Also, the president submitted a budget in 2012 which didn’t get one vote in either the House or the Senate. It was unanimously defeated in both houses. That’s quite a statement.

 

All this doesn’t mean the government can’t operate. Congress just keeps passing continuing resolutions and the president keeps signing them into law. Not the most efficient and cost effective way of doing business, especially for a government so far in debt; and, it certainly doesn’t allow for government departments to adequately plan to carry out their functions.

 

So, that is the basics of the constitutional and statutory foundation of our current budget process. Next time someone says the problem of not have a budget is due to the intransigence of the House of Representatives, remember, they did their job and passed a budget. It never even came up for a vote in the Senate. That is the truth.

 



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