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Post Partisan
Posted at 02:50 PM ET, 04/12/2012

Please kill off this budget myth

Federal budgeting is genuinely complex. The process has a lot of relatively obscure stages: There’s authorization, appropriations, reconciliation, 302b allocations, and more. There’s something called a “budget resolution,” which is sort of a budget, but sort of not. As I said, it’s complicated.

Republicans have built out of this a completely nonsensical talking point about Democrats operating without out a budget, and it’s still, no matter how often it’s been debunked, gathering steam. For example (via TPM), CNBC anchor Maria Bartiromo has apparently fully bought into it, asking Gene Sperling this week “How tough has it been operating without a budget? This administration has not had a budget in 3000 days.”

The best part of that question is that 3000 days is roughly eight years. Alas, that presumably accidental slip of the tongue is about as accurate as the rest of the question.

The U.S. government, of course, is absolutely operating under a budget. The law that provided that budget even conveniently had the word “budget” in its title: it’s the Budget Control Act, passed by Congress and signed by the president to end the debt limit confrontation last summer.

This is true, no matter how many times people repeat that Congress didn’t pass a budget. See, it’s complicated: Congress didn’t pass a “budget resolution” for the last two fiscal years, but that’s only one step in the process, and not the most important step. I don’t know how to make an analogy…it’s sort of like if your family normally discussed its budget by your husband drafting a spreadsheet and then formatted it nice and pretty and then you sit down and talk about it and figure out the revised numbers and then update the spreadsheet, only you skipped the part where it gets formatted nice and pretty. Only that’s not right, because the budget resolution can be more important than that implies…except it doesn’t have to be. Here’s a better one: Your company has each department draw up a budget, then come together and thrash it out in a preliminary meeting, then the results get circulated back to every department, and then you have a final meeting to resolve any outstanding disputes – except that in this case you skipped the preliminary meeting, leading to a longer and more contentious final meeting. Got that?

At any rate, through a historical fluke, there’s an intermediate stage in budgeting that has the name “budget.” That’s the thing that Congress hasn’t done for the last couple of years. Is there a reasonable criticism of the Democratic Senate for not voting on a budget resolution last year? I suppose. Is there a reasonable criticism of the Democratic Congress for not producing a budget resolution in 2010? Again, maybe. But it’s all about process, and has nothing at all to do with whether the United States government is operating under a budget. Of course it is.

I don’t really watch CNBC, and in fact didn’t know that there was a real person named Maria Bartiromo until she appeared at a GOP debate a few months ago. But if this is how she does her job normally, Joey Ramone should be rolling over in his grave. Embarrassingly bad. 

By  |  02:50 PM ET, 04/12/2012

 
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