By Jonathan Nicholson
A bipartisan group that advocates for trying getting the federal budget closer to balanced said Thursday the White House will be flouting the law if it doesn’t update its budget estimates in July.
Under the 1974 law that set up the budget process, the White House is required to send not only a budget plan to Congress by the first Monday in February, but also an update to that document by July 15.
But the White House doesn’t plan on including any updates to either the economic forecasts or deficit projections in the summer report, according to a Washington Post report Thursday. Those are usually seen as the most significant new information in the “mid-session reviews.”
While the mid-session review has been delivered late by White Houses in the past, of both parties, leaving out the projections would be new. And it would not comply with the law, according to Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.
“When the Trump administration released its Fiscal Year 2021 budget plan, we were still in the midst of an economic expansion. By staying silent on how to reallocate those federal dollars under an unprecedented economic downturn, the executive branch is doing a disservice to taxpayers and avoiding tough discussions we need to have about the new fiscal reality,” MacGuineas said in a statement to MarketWatch.
“There is a good reason why the mid-session review is called for in statute, particularly to submit a ‘supplemental budget based on substantial obligations imposed on the budget after its submission.’ If trillions of dollars in emergency spending doesn’t qualify as ‘substantial’ new budgetary obligations, then what does?”
In addition to the required update from the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office also prepares a mid-session review each year. The CBO serves as Congress’ scorekeeper for predicting the budget impacts of proposed legislation.
The CBO updated its projections for 2020 and 2021 earlier this month, projecting the U.S. economy, which shrank at a 5% annual rate in the first quarter, would decline further at a 37.7% pace in the second quarter.
It also said it expected unemployment to peak at 15.8% in the third quarter and still average 9.3% in 2021, and the budget deficit to rise to a nominal record of $3.7 trillion.
The CBO has said it will issue its own mid-session review in early September.
House Budget Chairman John Yarmuth, a Kentucky Democrat, said Thursday: “The point of the mid-session review is to keep Congress informed so we can make the best decision for the American people — instead this president would rather use outdated projections to disguise the current economic crisis and failure of leadership from this administration.”
Sen. Mike Enzi, the Wyoming Republican who heads the Senate Budget Committee, had no comment, according to his office.
The OMB did not respond to a request for comment on the report.
The CRFB’s MacGuineas said a review without numbers would be one more step toward making the budget process irrelevant.
“Budgeting matters — in the face of a pandemic, recession and trillions in new debt — more than ever. Our lawmakers went into this crisis with no real budget in place, and now the White House, by ignoring its mid-session review responsibility, is continuing to fuel the idea that thoughtful, responsible budgeting just doesn’t matter,” she said.