Budget Digest: What is Budget Season?

The congressional “budget season” typically refers to the critical months between February and April when key events occur that contribute to the construction and congressional approval of the annual budget resolution. The timetable for these key dates and deadlines are defined in the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974 (Budget Act).

1st Monday in February – President’s Budget Request. The Executive Branch is required to submit the President’s budget request to Congress by the first Monday in February. While Congress holds the power of the purse, historically the President’s budget request kicks off the congressional budget season, serving as a starting point for lawmakers to determine funding levels and national spending priorities.

February 15th – CBO Budget and Economic Outlook. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) releases the updated Budget and Economic Outlook, commonly referred to as the “baseline,” by February 15th. CBO’s annual baseline, which includes projections of federal spending, revenue, surpluses or deficits, and debt for the next 10 years, is a critical tool to building a budget resolution because it provides a neutral benchmark from which to recommend policy options and determine funding levels. The budget resolution cannot be written without the baseline. CBO may release the baseline earlier than this date.

February/March – Views and Estimates & Members’ Day Hearing. Authorizing committees assist the Budget Committee by submitting Views and Estimates, which outline authorizing committees’ legislative priorities for the upcoming fiscal year. While not binding, these priorities are taken into consideration during construction of the annual budget resolution.

The Budget Act also requires the Budget Committee to “receive testimony from Members of Congress” in the process of developing the annual concurrent resolution on the budget. This practice, known as Members’ Day, provides all Members of Congress with an open forum to discuss their suggestions for the budget resolution.

April 15th – Adoption of Budget Resolution. The Budget Act sets April 15th as the target date for congressional approval of a budget resolution. Upon adoption by both the House and Senate, the budget resolution is the binding fiscal framework for the subsequent consideration of spending and tax legislation. It is the only legislative vehicle that offers a comprehensive outline of the federal government’s finances, providing a roadmap for Congress to address the nation’s fiscal challenges. Key elements of the budget resolution include:

  • Spending allocations for appropriations and authorizing committees;
  • Federal revenue aggregates;
  • Targets for deficits or surpluses and debt;
  • Reconciliation instructions which can be used to address mandatory spending; and
  • Budget enforcement provisions.