Funny how much a plan can change on its way from drawing board to reality. Look no further than the "Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974."
Lawmakers passed the bill because it would, supposedly, help them control spending and even put our country on a glide path to a balanced budget. It set a spending limit and identified the minimum amount the federal government would collect in taxes, thus allowing policymakers to see at a glance whether they were spending more than the IRS took in.
The bill was also designed to give lawmakers more control over entitlement spending such as Social Security and Medicare, which is on automatic pilot and not part of the regular budgeting process. And it created the Congressional Budget Office, whose mission is to provide non-partisan information about the budget and make forecasts about the economy and the cost of proposed bills.
Those well-laid plans have gone far astray.
In 1974, the federal government spent about $269 billion, while taking in some $263 billion. That's a shortfall of about $6 billion, back when a billion really meant something. By the end of 2007 the feds were spending $2.7 trillion annually, while pocketing less than $2.6 trillion. The shortfall: $162 billion.
This is a bipartisan problem, of course.
Annual spending increased by a trillion dollars during the George W. Bush years (under a Republican congress and Republican president), jumping from $1.7 trillion in 2000 to $2.7 trillion in 2007. It has soared even further under a Democratic congress and Democratic president. The Obama administration submitted a $3.83 trillion budget for 2010.
So much for fiscal responsibility. Every year we spend more. Every year we owe more. And there's no end in sight.
In fact this year, Congress will dispense with what's become a formality. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer recently announced that it won't bother even passing a budget resolution this year. "It's difficult to pass budgets in election years, because they reflect what the [nation's fiscal] status is," Hoyer told FOX News last month.
But isn't that exactly the point? Americans elect lawmakers to make the spending decisions for the government. We deserve to know what those decisions are before we go to the polls to elect the folks who will make those decisions for the next two or six years.
"It's difficult to pass budgets"? Tough. That's your job. If you can't do it, don't seek office. Unless House leadership changes course, this would be the first time since 1973 that the House won't pass a budget, and it would set a terrible precedent.
As Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., points out, Congress hasn't had any trouble spending money lately: "What we're basically saying is after just raising taxes $670 billion dollars this session, after raising spending $1.8 trillion dollars this session, after creating a whole new health care entitlement this session, we're not even going to budget?"
Not having a budget framework would mean Congress wouldn't even attempt to cap discretionary spending for next year. It's not enough for lawmakers to "deem" that they've met spending targets. "Deeming" won't make the money appear in our national coffers.
Lawmakers realize they've already overspent. As federal revenues tumbled, the Obama administration pushed through a $862 billion "stimulus" bill, an 8 percent hike in discretionary spending, another unpaid-for Medicare "doc fix," and a trillion-dollar health care expansion.
Congress ought to start pushing back by passing a budget -- one that begins to roll back spending and decrease our soaring national debt. They owe taxpayers at least that much.
(Ed Feulner is president of The Heritage Foundation, www.heritage.org.)