Order Code 98-815 GOV
Updated March 5, 2001
CRS Report for Congress
Received through the CRS Web
Budget Resolution Enforcement
Bill Heniff Jr.
Consultant in American National Government
Government and Finance Division
The annual budget resolution sets forth Congress's budget plan for a period of at least
five fiscal years. It includes total levels of spending, revenues, and the debt limit for each
of the fiscal years covered. While the budget resolution does not become law, the
Congressional Budget Act (CBA) of 1974 (titles I-IX of P.L. 93-344), as amended,
provides for the enforcement of its provisions as they are implemented in subsequent
annual appropriations bills, revenue measures, and other budgetary legislation. Under
section 303(a) of the CBA, the House and Senate are prohibited from considering any
budgetary legislation for the upcoming fiscal year before a budget resolution has been
adopted. The House may, however, consider appropriations bills after May 15 if a budget
resolution has not been adopted by that date. In addition, the House and Senate may
waive this provision by a simple majority at any time.
Once the budget resolution is adopted, Congress may, through points of order,
enforce its provisions at several levels: the aggregate levels of spending and revenue, the
level of resources allocated to committees, and the level of resources allocated to the
appropriations subcommittees. Congress also may use reconciliation legislation to enforce
the direct spending and revenue provisions of a budget resolution.
At the aggregate level, section 311(a) of the CBA prohibits the House or Senate from
considering any measure that would cause the spending or revenue totals for the first fiscal
year or for the full period covered by the budget resolution to be breached. In the House,
however, any measure that would not also cause the relevant committee allocation to be
exceeded is exempt from this point of order by section 311(c) of the CBA.
While Congress sets budget priorities by allocating spending among each major
functional category in a budget resolution, these amounts are not binding or enforceable
in subsequent budgetary legislation. The functional category amounts are allocated to the
relevant House and Senate committees with jurisdiction over spending under section
302(a) of the CBA, and are published in the joint explanatory statement accompanying the
conference report on a budget resolution. Section 302(a) allocations of new budget
authority and outlays may not exceed the total new budget authority and outlays set forth
in the budget resolution. Committee allocations are enforceable by points of order on the
floor of each house, under the provisions of section 302(f) of the CBA. Any measure that
would cause a committee’s section 302(a) allocation to be exceeded is prohibited from
being considered in either house.
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
Under section 302(b) of the CBA, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees
subdivide their allocations among their 13 subcommittees. The Appropriations
Committees have complete discretion in making these allocations and can revise them
during the appropriations process. Section 302(c) prohibits any measure within the
jurisdiction of the House or Senate Appropriations Committee from being considered in
the House or Senate before the committee has made the required allocations. Once
reported, the allocations are enforceable by points of order, under the section 302(f)
provisions. If an appropriations bill violates, or an amendment would cause an
appropriations bill to violate, a subcommittee allocation, a point of order may be made that
would prohibit the consideration of the measure or amendment.
Adjustments may be made to the aggregate levels set forth in a budget resolution, and
the associated committee spending allocations, based on certain criteria, under section 314
of the CBA, as amended by the 1997 Budget Enforcement Act (BEA). The
Appropriations Committees may adjust their subcommittee allocations accordingly.
The CBA also provides for Senate enforcement of the Social Security levels set forth
in a budget resolution. Section 311(a)(3) of the CBA prohibits from being considered in
the Senate any measure that would cause a decrease in Social Security surpluses or an
increase in Social Security deficits relative to the levels included in the applicable budget
resolution for the first fiscal year or for the full period covered by the budget resolution.
In each case, a point of order is the procedural mechanism for enforcing the
provisions set forth in the budget resolution. Points of order, however, are not selfenforcing; a member must raise a point of order to enforce the spending and revenue
amounts included in a budget resolution. Congress may consider and enact legislation
even if it were to violate the provisions of a budget resolution if no point of order is made.
Also, budget enforcement points of order may be waived. In the House, a "special rule"
reported by the Rules Committee and adopted by the House may be used to waive any
points of order. In the Senate, these budgetary points of order may be waived by
unanimous consent or by a vote of the Senate on a waiver motion as provided under
section 904 of the CBA. Most Congressional Budget Act points of order may be waived
only by a three-fifths vote of all Senators duly chosen and sworn (60 votes if there are no
vacancies), although section 303(a) may be waived by simple majority.
An integral part of enforcing the spending and revenue levels of a budget resolution
is scorekeeping. Generally, scorekeeping is the process of measuring the budgetary impact
of pending legislation and is used to determine whether or not such legislation violates
budget resolution levels (see CRS Report 98-560, Baselines and Scorekeeping in the
Federal Budget Process). The House and Senate Budget Committees, acting with the
assistance of the Congressional Budget Office, are responsible for scorekeeping in
Congress. Section 312 of the CBA, as amended most recently by the BEA of 1997,
requires that the determination of budget resolution violations be based on estimates made
by the Budget Committees.