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Passing the Buck

Passing the Buck: Congress, the Budget, and Deficits

Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    Passing the Buck
    Book Description:

    In the past thirty years, Congress has dramatically changed its response to unpopular deficit spending. While the landmark Congressional Budget Act of 1974 tried to increase congressional budgeting powers, new budget processes created in the 1980s and 1990s were all explicitly designed to weaken member, majority, and institutional budgeting prerogatives. These later reforms shared the premise that Congress cannot naturally forge balanced budgets without new automatic mechanisms and enhanced presidential oversight. So Democratic majorities in Congress gave new budgeting powers to Presidents Reagan and Bush, and then Republicans did the same for President Clinton.

    Passing the Buckexamines how Congress is increasing delegation of a wide variety of powers to the president in recent years. Jasmine Farrier assesses why institutional ambition in the early 1970s turned into institutional ambivalence about whether Congress is equipped to handle its constitutional duties.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5674-3
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
    (pp. viii-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. 1-8)

    In numerous policy debates over recent decades Congress has openly questioned whether its powers are vital to advancing the national interest or, rather, serve to thwart it. Through such diverse delegations of power as fast-track presidential trade authority, military base–closing commissions, and the line-item veto, Congress tells the country that it is not suited to making tough decisions on major policy questions. In addition, Congress has not declared war (which it alone has the power to do) since the Second World War, opting instead to support undeclared presidential-led military actions from Korea to the Persian Gulf and to give...

  6. Part I: Delegation of Power and Representation

      (pp. 11-25)

      Congress was designed over two hundred years ago with the assumptions that members would fight for their institution and that budget powers would be especially dear to the hearts of legislators. When legislative behavior turns out differently on both counts in recent decades, it is important to investigate why and how these changes matter. In this chapter, I argue that strategic explanations of delegation do not appreciate its complex institutional origins and significance. Delegation of power should not be seen only as purposeful action by utility-maximizing political actors and organizations. While such micro-level strategies exist, they are sufficiently contradictory and...

    • 2 REFORMING THE REFORMS: A Brief History of Congressional Budgeting
      (pp. 26-48)

      Although this book focuses on the past three decades of budget reform, an important question is how these recent cases fit, or not, with patterns evident in the overall evolution of the process. In this chapter, I argue that congressional budget reforms in the last thirty years continue a trend of ambivalence begun in the early twentieth century in which augmentation of executive budget powers is interspersed with more institutionally protective reforms. At the same time, the repeated success of delegation movements in light of the record deficits in the 1980s and 1990s shows how Congress has dramatically changed its...

  7. Part II: Institutional Self-Diagnosis and Budget Reform, 1974–1996

    • 3 1974 BUDGET ACT: Congress Takes Control
      (pp. 51-81)

      The 1974 Budget Act is a rare example of Congress viewing its own power as crucial to budget control. In this way, the 1974 reform is a stark contrast to subsequent episodes of congressional budget process changes in the 1980s and 1990s, which emphasized reduction of congressional power through external delegation and automatic spending-reduction procedures.

      For its scope and longevity, the 1974 Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act was the most important bundle of budget process changes since the 1921 Budget and Accounting Act, which created the annual executive budget. The new Congressional Budget Office, House and Senate Budget Committees,...

      (pp. 82-128)

      The 1974 Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act and its Gramm-Rudman-Hollings amendments a decade later were very different responses to similar institutional self-diagnoses. As Chapter 3 emphasized, the framers of the 1974 budget reforms acknowledged that institutional deficiencies in congressional budgeting contributed to federal spending problems, but they also argued that restructuring and enhancing congressional power over the annual budget process would lead to more responsible fiscal outcomes. Gramm-Rudman-Hollings I and II marked an important shift, in both congressional action and rhetoric, from such defense and enhancement of legislative budgeting prerogatives observed in 1974. The fiscal and political pressures resulting...

    • 5 OLD PROBLEMS AND NEW TOOLS OF SELF-RESTRAINT: The Budget Enforcement Act of 1990
      (pp. 129-164)

      Congress revisited the federal budget process, and the related issue of how to discipline itself better, just three years after Gramm-Rudman-Hollings II was passed in 1987. In their discussion of the 1990 Budget Enforcement Act (BEA), James A. Thurber and Samantha L. Durst summarize the pressing bundle of issues the government faced: “the budget reforms of the 1970s and 1980s, in spite of their goals, did not curb federal spending, reduce the deficit, force Congress to complete budgeting on time, reorder national spending priorities, allow Congress to control fiscal policy, or eliminate the need for continuing resolutions. Clearly, something needed...

    • 6 STOP US BEFORE WE SPEND AGAIN: The Line–Item Veto Act of 1996
      (pp. 165-214)

      Movements to reduce Congress’s budgetary power continued through the mid-1990s, even as annual deficits began to decline and the parties switched their institutional dominance. After Republicans gained a majority in the House and Senate in the 1994 off-year elections, a balanced-budget constitutional amendment came closer to congressional passage than it had under the Democrats, but it failed to gain the necessary two-thirds support in 1995 and 1997 by a hair’s margin in the Senate. By contrast, the so-called line-item veto, a milder but still controversial form of congressional delegation, won passage in the Republican Congress after ten years of legislative...

    (pp. 215-224)

    In the 1980s and 1990s, the policy problem of the deficit became fodder for a Republican-led attack on Congress as the symbol of an irresponsible federal government. Even though presidents put their own spending and taxation pressures on the federal budget, they often blamed Congress for unpopular fiscal policies, and the public appeared to agree. Congress became the center of debate over the causes of, and solutions to, imbalanced budgets as members and leaders engaged in a range of curious public behaviors from diffidence to outright self-flagellation, even under conditions of divided government. Such rhetoric and action undoubtedly reflected short-term...

  9. NOTES
    (pp. 225-266)
    (pp. 267-271)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 272-286)