Some Approaches to Reforming Congress and Its Budget Process

I thought this Megan McArdle interview of Yuval Levin explained a lot about how the Congressional budgeting process has gone off the rails.   It does not blame anyone as somehow guilty of being bad actors, but merely looks at shifting incentives for parties and legislators and how these have gotten us where we are.  One example:

The process began to decay in the mid-1990s, when something very important changed in Congress. After 40 years of Congress understanding itself as an institution run by Democrats, with Republicans exercising power by putting pressure on internal Democratic divisions (and making demands in return for giving votes to measures that couldn’t quite get enough Democrats), Republicans took control.

When Republicans took control, Congress didn’t settle into a new partisan pattern, but instead settled into a sense that control could switch with the next election -- always.

So it's not that Republicans failed to run the budget process, but that both parties started thinking very differently about Congress. Now, the minority party tends to think the imperative is to keep the majority from getting anything it wants, instead of making trades in order to get something from its own to-do list, because that list would be much easier to achieve after the next election if control changes hands. And the 1974 process is a poor fit for that set of incentives.


  1. The_Big_W:

    Shorter explanation: Democrats are sore losers...

  2. Aggie:

    Congress has forgotten they work for the people, and the people have forgotten to remind Congress. A balanced budget amendment would help this condition (in my view), especially if all spending stopped when there is no budget. That would provoke swift and focused attention y Congress, likely at the point of the pitchforks. I find it amazing that a country with an economy of this size and complexity could allow its leadership to slime its way past the budget preparation and ratification process for so long, seemingly with no accountability and little consequence. Except doubling the national debt of course, which is now so large it escapes any comprehensible meaning.