Among critics of the budget reconciliation procedure, none have been more extreme than Rep. Richard Bolling (D-Mo.) and John E. Barriere ["Budget-Making Gone Awry," op-ed, June 28]. They see in the current reconciliation process not only a distortion of the 1974 Budget Act and of the intent of the framers of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, but also an authoritarian attack that "will likely shake the fragile balance of our country's system of self-government."
The Congressional Budget and Impoundment Act of 1974 is no such thing. Designed to strengthen the hand of Congress against that of the executive branch, the act created a new Budget Committee in each house of Congress and a Congressional Budget Office to provide Congress with its own, independent economic information and analysis. In the name of rationalizing the budget process, it also created a cumbersome precedural morass.
The intent of the 1974 act cannot be faulted. Prior to its adoption, total expenditures and revenues were not the product of institutional forethought but the resulting sum of many separate bills. In the decade prior to 1974, federal spending had more than doubled. In those same years, only one budget surplus was achieved, and the cumulativae deficit for the decade reached almost $100 billion.
Those were surely indications that a fresh budget approach was needed. Yet since 1974, the results have been far worse: federal spending has increased from $269 billion to an estimated $662 billion in 1981. In those same seven years, the federal deficit totaled more than $440 billion.
These figures illustrate that the budget process adopted in 1974 has not addressed the imbalance between taxing and spending. Indeed, the Budget Act has provided something that never before existed in congressional debates: a macro-economic rationale for budget deficits. Before 1974, of course, Congress had adopted many deficits. But it had done so merely as an unfortunate result, not out of a commitment to principle.
The American public has become fed up with the notion of "uncontrollable expenditures" that is enshrined in the language of the Budget Act. The public wants from Congress a discipline that is extremely difficult to generate under the labyrinthine budget process, which provides opportunities to escape ceilings and increase expenditures at many points along the way. Reconciliation serves the desire for congressional disciplines, and serves it well.
The reconciliation process in no way alters the relationship between the congressional and executive branches of government. Congress remains master of its own house, and is free to accept or reject any or all of the executive branch budget proposal. There is no sense in which the current reconciliation process reaches the separation of powers issue, and therefore no sense whatever in which it raises a constitutional question, much less distorts the intent of the framers of the Constitution.
It will not do to portray the current situation as one in which a partisan Congress has been forced by an all-clever executive to do its bidding; after all, the House of Representatives is controlled by the opposition party.
It is painfully clear that in the 1974 act, Congress stopped far short of addressing the problem of genuine fiscal control. It created a great engine for spending, and to date the only tool that has been found to slow that engine has been the reconciliation process. In employing reconciliation, Congress has, for the first time, helped to achieve one of the stated goals of the 1974 act: to generate public confidence in congressional budget decisions.