In 2011, I wrote a piece for Foreign Policy magazine about the 112th Congress; the editors helpfully titled it “Worst. Congress. Ever.” It was a bit of hyperbole, but it may be no exaggeration to call the current, 114th Congress the worst ever—at least edging out the infamous 112th. The truly cringeworthy failures started when both the House and Senate refused to even acknowledge the president’s budget, an unprecedented step, and the House and Senate Budget Committees followed by refusing to hold the usual annual hearing when the president’s top economic advisor comes to the Hill to discuss the budget and the economy. It was a sign of disrespect that was simply shocking. (Although the shock value was exceeded days later after Justice Antonin Scalia’s death.)
What about the congressional budget? Remember, back when Democrats controlled the Senate, Republican congressional leaders used to laud passing a budget as the single most significant action government could take? This time, the April 15 deadline passed without a murmur, much less an actual budget plan, from either house.
You can argue, as I have in the past, that a budget is just a symbolic document, whether it is the president’s budget, which Congress can ignore in whole or part in its own actions, or the congressional budget, set in the process in the 1974 Budget and Impoundment Control Act, not requiring a president’s signature and merely setting guidelines for Congress—often, absurd and manipulated numbers to score political points. What really matters is the spending bills and taxing bills themselves. And you can argue—as Democrats did after passage of the 2013 Ryan-Murray budget deal—that a formal budget is unnecessary since the overall guidelines were adopted in the Boehner-Obama budget deal agreed to in December 2015 right before Boehner passed the baton to Paul Ryan.