The Congressional Budget Act (CBA) of 1974 requires the House and Senate budget committee chairs to make periodic scorekeeping updates to their colleagues. Late last week, Senate Bernie Sanders (I-VT) finally complied with this law and released his first scorekeeping report since becoming Chair of the Senate Budget Committee at the beginning of 2021. National Taxpayers Union Foundation has repeatedly urged the Senator, including in papers released in August 2021 and January of this year, to comply with this obligation.
The data in these reports help Congress keep track of the status of the budget, taking into account how recently-enacted legislation has impacted total spending and revenue levels. The information also shows whether the totals are in compliance with the most recent budget resolution. The CBA requires the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to provide the budget committees with up-to-date tabulations of congressional budget action, and in turn, the chairs of the budget committees are supposed to make periodic scorekeeping updates to their respective chambers.
Sanders's report found that FY 2022 outlays enacted through April 22 total $4.486 trillion, $18 billion lower than the budget resolution total. However, Congress has also approved $33 billion in emergency spending that is outside of the limit in the budget resolution.
Compliance with the scorekeeping requirement is a positive step, but the numbers in the report show that more work is needed to fix a dysfunctional budget process. Going forward, if there are gaps in the release of scorekeeping reports from Congress, CBO should be able to publish their tabulations on their website to make them publicly available.
Moreover, Sanders's statement with the report includes no mention of the record federal debt that now tops $30 trillion. The budget resolution for FY 2022 allowed for higher spending levels and the reconciliation packages in Congress were being used to boost spending rather than address Washington's chronic deficits. A regime of budget discipline needs to go hand in hand with the scorekeeping reports. With Congress poised to enact even more emergency spending and higher interest rates set to drive up the cost of debt payments, a plan for budget and spending reforms are badly needed before the federal debt reaches the tipping point.