The Little Lost Budget

January 24, 2013 | By Thompson Education | Post a Comment

(The following post ran in Thompson’s education blog, Title 1-derland.) Oh, where, oh where, can it be?

The President’s fiscal 2014 budget, that is. In years past, I would be gearing up for the presentation of the President’s annual budget proposal, which the law requires the President to submit to Congress no later than the first Monday in February. This is the formal kick-off for a budget process that ultimately generates actual spending bills passed by Congress later the same year (or, sometimes, in the next).

But the fiscal shenanigans of the past couple of years have pretty much blown normal deadlines out of the water. According to a letter sent by the Office of Management and Budget to Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), head of the House Budget Committee, the endless changes accompanying last fall’s budget negotiations — only resolved with a vote on New Year’s Day — made it impossible for the executive branch to generate a budget on time.  The letter contains no projections about when a budget might be submitted.

Of course, this missed deadline is less significant than it might appear. In the past, the presentation of the budget would set off a Washington-wide all-hands scramble to review each line-item, on the assumption that the president’s proposals would have a serious impact on the ultimate funding levels for each specific program.

But no one pretends that will be the case this time around. We don’t even have a final 2013 budget yet! (The current temporary continuing resolution ends March 27.) So there isn’t a previous-year baseline from which to work. In the end, there probably will be some over-arching negotiation that sets lower or stagnant spending levels, and the results generally will be applied in a cookie-cutter fashion to all the programs in each agency. There will be little time or energy for a program-by-program consideration of funding, and it is much harder to start new initiatives when it means taking money from existing programs, each with its defenders.

When Medicare and defense spending are on the block, it’s pretty hard to spare time for an examination of itty-bitty education programs like English language acquisition (0.1 percent of the federal budget) or TRIO (about the same). Pell Grants will get a look, and the GOP will probably attack (unsuccessfully) some of President Obama’s signature programs like Race to the Top. But other programs will probably just get a lick and promise from congressional appropriators, with serious examination of funding levels deferred to the next year.

Let us know what you predict the budget, whenever it comes out, will look like.

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