Long-Term Budgeting by a Short-Term Congress

The only budgets a Congress has control over are those that fall within its two-year term.  Nevertheless, a Congress may pretend that it can set its spending priorities in stone so that a future Congress must do what it "dictates."  The 112th Congress, the current one, tried to do this in the Budget Control Act of 2011, which triggers sequesters (automatic spending cuts) over the next several years.  Such dictates amount to congressional malpractice, as no Congress can dictate to another Congress. The control a Congress has over even its own budgets is limited.  Several things can happen that can undo the budget of a Congress.  For instance, there can be emergencies and natural disasters, like hurricane Katrina, which necessitate unexpected spending.  Until Richard Nixon, presidents could impound funds -- that is, not spend funds that Congress has appropriated.  Or the Supreme Court might strike down a new program for which Congress has made...(Read Full Article)

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