Historically, the job of proposing and approving a budget has been a crucial one for the Congress. While actual line-by-line spending decisions are made later, during the appropriations process, the budget is the one federal document that lays out a vision for the nation's finances. It is designed to be the moment when Congress takes a hard look at the books and makes sound plans for America's fiscal future.
The lack of a budget plan for the past three years has exacerbated America's fiscal problems because, for three years, Congress has not passed a roadmap to bring spiraling deficits under control.
Mr. Obama has made proposals that have been ignored. House Republicans actually passed a budget last year – the plan constructed by Rep. Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin that sought to rein in entitlements and bring down deficits. But it failed to pass the Senate, and Republicans took a huge political hit for the severity of Congressman Ryan's proposals.
It is just such a political hit that, entering an election year, congressional leaders want to avoid. By averting a floor vote on a comprehensive budget package, congressional leaders protect vulnerable members from having to commit to deficits, tax hikes, or spending cuts that could hurt them at the polls.
“What avoiding a floor vote on a budget does is eliminate the need for members of Congress to go on record for or against a deficit,” says Mr. Collender.
The result: the emergence of Senator Reid's plan to avoid a budget vote altogether. Last summer's debt-ceiling deal did provide some budget guidance for parts of the federal government, Collender says. But it does not lay out plans for Social Security, Medicare, and interest on the national debt, he adds.