President Obama’s budget will be late again.
When the President and Congress failed to close the fiscal cliff deal until January 2, it was predictable enough that the Administration would once again submit its budget a bit late. The fiscal cliff changed both revenues and spending, and so all the budget numbers have to be re-run and some policies reconsidered.
Even so, stretching an unprecedented record of tardiness, Obama’s budget might not land until March—a full month past the legal deadline of the first Monday in February (February 4 this year).
With any other President, this might be just an understandable delay resulting from difficult, protracted budget negotiations. With Obama, however, it extends a habit reflecting his own cavalier attitude toward the government’s troubled fiscal condition.
This will be Obama’s fourth late budget submission in five years. Indeed, he will now be the first President to present three consecutive late budgets. As Heritage has previously noted, Obama already is the first President to deliver three of his budgets late in just one term and the first to submit budgets late two years in a row.
He also holds the record for the latest budget submission: 98 days. Although this was during his first year in office, when Presidents’ budgets are often understandably delayed, he contributed to the problem by ramming through an $833 billion stimulus bill within a month of his inauguration. This President can’t bother budgeting when he’s busy spending.
For broader context, the House Budget Committee has helpfully posted the timing of all Presidents’ budgets since enactment of the 1921 Budget and Accounting Act, which created the formal executive budget process. The committee notes: “All presidents from Harding to Reagan’s first term met the statutory budget submission deadline in every year.”
This included five years in which deadline extensions were requested and granted—and then met. Even during World War II and Korea, the President’s budget reached Congress on time. With Obama, by contrast, meeting fiscal deadlines is an anomaly.
Nor has this President ever submitted a Mid-Session Review by July 16, as required by law.
Fixating on budget deadlines may seem compulsive, but this President’s willful negligence in this regard exonerates the failures of the Senate, which has all but abandoned the fundamental governing practice of budgeting. The President’s budget is the formal start of the budget process; when it’s late, so is everything else, pushing back budget decisions and obliterating the fiscal year, which starts (or used to) on October 1.
More important, perhaps, Congress’s nature is to avoid difficult tasks such as budgeting. Presidents have traditionally tried to set a good example, starting with meeting legal deadlines. President Obama? Not so much.
His persistent delays also reflect an equally casual view of the nation’s severe fiscal crisis. To the extent his budgets propose deficit reduction, it is overwhelmingly through tax increases, while spending runs on unchecked and trillion-dollar deficits become as habitual as his late budgets.
Indeed, having just pushed through a massive tax hike, Obama in his latest press conference on the debt limit returned to his theme of raising taxes. While often referring to “balanced” approaches to deficit reduction, his sense of balance seems to be tax increases in the present balanced by tax increases in the future.
The government’s fiscal problems are real and getting worse. It will take serious, substantial, and sustained spending restraint to correct its disastrous fiscal course. That, in turn, depends on restoring consistent, regular budgeting practices. The more the President ignores something as straightforward as budget deadlines set in law, the further out of control budgeting becomes, and the more difficult it becomes to reform unsustainable entitlements, restrain spending, and reduce the deficit.