Why Federal Budget Rules Matter

As we often try to remember on these pages, the federal budget, which may superficially appear to be merely a convoluted collection of insignificant numbers, is actually the decoder ring to a better understanding of our country’s real priorities -- since not a lot happens to improve a problem without spending money, the federal budget reveals which problems our country’s policy makers are working to improve. Even less understood and farther removed from our daily lives are the intricacies of federal budget rules. These rules, which govern how the House and Senate must work to craft the country’s annual budget, are in place to ensure that sufficient time is given to debating and developing the a course for tackling the nation’s problems.

The Senate may lose some of the rules governing Senate budget procedures -- rules that helped to earn it the title of the “world’s greatest deliberative body” -- including a 60-vote requirement (called a "supermajority" to distinguish it from the "simple majority" of 51 votes) on certain issues, will expire October 1, 2002. In addition to helping to ensure that proposed tax cut legislation is debated thoroughly, the supermajority rule has kept the appropriations bills from becoming bogged down in unrelated amendments, while allowing for debate about the spending priorities of the country.

For a look at these rules and what their expiration could mean for upcoming issues as diverse as estate tax repeal, Social Security and future appropriations, see this OMB Watch analysis.

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