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Budget History 101

US Capitol Building with cash
US Capitol Building with cash

It’s time for a little history lesson, boys and girls. I'm feeling inspired by my recent trip to the nation's capital, so the subject of the day is: the federal budget.

It all started with the Budget and Accounting Act of 1921, which established the framework used by Congress to formulate the budget. More than 50 years later, Congress passed the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974, which basically laid out Congress’ role in the budget process. Before this time—if you can believe it—Congress had no formal process for establishing a coherent budget.

Wait a minute—coherent budget? Seeing as the United States has not had a balanced budget since 1957, the year that Dwight Eisenhower was in office, I’m not convinced we’ve ever had a coherent budget, before or since 1974. (Yeah, yeah, yeah there was that slight surplus during the Clinton Administration, but even then there were never two consecutive years in which the actual total amount of national debt decreased.)

Bob Bennett, Washington DC’s superlawyer, told me when I took the show to DC that essentially everyone is wrong with the 2012 proposal: his own fellow GOPers, the Dems and the President. He told me, as you can see in the banner on the screen, that the cuts were too "symbolic."

BUT—I wondered—is all the message massaging just "symbolic" too? Isn't it time to leave the President alone (cue: "Leave Britney Alone!") for the time-being? I know any President should and will get some arrows but isn't this always a jumping off point for discussion?

And sure enough—Bennett told me he doesn't remember in his 18 years in office as a Republican senator from Utah the last time there wasn't wrangling through the House and the Senate and behind-the-scenes politicking with the resulting document looking much different than it did outta the gate.

ME: "Was there ever a time a time when the President's budget was passed "as-is"?

BENNETT: "No."

Class dismissed.

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