By Rep. James Lankford
Deer and turkey seasons are the main events every fall in Oklahoma. The main event in Washington every spring is budget season. While budget season may not seem as fun as turkey season [insert your obligatory government turkey joke here], it is essential to a free and open nation. It is important to know the basics of our national budget process and have an opportunity to contribute ideas.
Each fiscal year begins on October 1 and ends the following September 30, so the first step of the process--the budget--needs to start well in advance. As a member of the House Budget Committee, it is my duty to help Congress craft our annual federal budget. Crafting a budget is a complicated and statutorily mandated product of our federal government. Our laws give us specific deadlines for the process. They are not suggestions.
By the first Monday in February, the President is required by law to submit his annual budget to Congress. His budget includes funding requests for all federal executive departments, independent agencies and all suggested allocations for federal government spending in the next fiscal year. It is the presidential "wish list." Following submission of his budget, the House and Senate Budget Committees draft their resolutions in response to the President's suggestions. Both committees finalize their drafts and submit them for consideration, amendment and adoption by April 15, coincidentally "Tax Day."
Once the House and Senate determine the "top-line" numbers (total spending in each category), the Appropriations Committee sets the final amounts and allocates funding for specific programs and projects. In the summer months, Congress should vote on twelve separate appropriations bills to allocate funding to various agencies within the government to meet the October 1 deadline.
Unfortunately, that's the way the process is intended to work. The President has only met the deadline for his budget submission to Congress once in the five years of his presidency, late more often than any other President. Though the House has fulfilled its constitutional obligation to pass a budget on time, the Senate has not. Despite the national outrage over the huge deficit in 2009, the Senate has stopped even trying to create a budget. To make matters worse, when the Democrat-controlled Senate brought up the President's budget last year, it received zero votes. It also received zero votes in the House.
A few weeks ago, the House passed "No Budget, No Pay." The bill, which is now law, requires the House and Senate to create a budget or each chamber's Members will not be paid until passage. Last week, the House passed another bill requiring the President to submit a budget that balances within ten years or notify Congress when or if it will balance. The Senate has not voted on that bill. Since we stopped producing a budget, American debt has increased more than $5 trillion to $16.5 trillion.
While some say our debt problem is caused by too few taxes, everyone should understand that in 2013 the Treasury will bring in the highest revenue in our nation's history but still be almost $1 trillion short. The only way out of this spiraling national debt is to put a responsible, long-term plan in place. Producing and implementing an annual federal budget is critical to the success of any long-term plan. The time is now to fix the broken budget process and begin to set our nation on a fiscally responsible path. Get ready for budget season. This spring may be a little noisy.