As Congress nears the end of its 2013 calendar, House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan and Senate Budget Chair Patty Murray are rushing to finalize a deal on the federal budget for next year. There will be a lot of strum and drang over the negotiations. It is important to remember, however, that whatever agreement is reached has no force of law. It isn’t even sent to the President. It is effectively meaningless.
The Congressional Budget Resolution is, at best, a soft suggestion for how the federal government should spend money. It isn’t enacted “into law” by a Presidential signature, because it is never sent to the President. Theoretically, the Appropriations Committees, which actually authorize spending, will live within the spending levels set in the Budget Resolution, but they are under no obligation to do so.
It is like my wife and I deciding to spend X on Christmas, but we end up spending X+Y. It may not have been our plan, but we’re still on the hook for the spending.
Nevertheless, Rep. Paul Ryan is furiously trying to reach a deal with Senate Democrats on a Budget Resolution. It is almost a hallmark of Republican politics. Spend a lot of political capital on something that means nothing. It is Defund vs. Delay 2.0. Republicans are actually strategizing how to win the votes on legislation that has zero impact on federal spending.
Meanwhile, negotiations on actual federal spending, guided by the “continuing resolution,” are falling largely on partisan lines. The deal that reopened the government in October authorized federal spending until January 15th. No matter what fantasy Ryan and Murray achieve, continuing this CR will actually set federal spending. Democrats are seeking to eliminate the sequester cuts and boost federal spending. Republicans, while open to changing how cuts are achieved, want to preserve the same level of spending cuts.
That is the real debate. Anything Ryan and Murray produce is, literally, a side-show.