The President's proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2018-2019 has been described as "just a nice book" and "dead on arrival because presidential budgets are always dead on arrival".

Similar sentiments have been expressed for prior years: "The president's budget has never been the starting point for anything as long as I've been here" and "The Library of Congress is filled with budget proposals that presidents sent to Capitol Hill and never saw again" (ibid.).

I could understand how the proposal could frame the debate and influence Congress. However, if Congress simply ignores the proposal and starts with the previous budget, then it would seem that the work to produce the proposal would be wasted. If so, what's the point of proposing a budget, other than to comply with the law?

Note: this question focuses on the role of the budget proposal, which is more specific than the President's power over the budget in general.

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    Why not? Somebody has to do it and the executive branch might be as good of a start as any other. Feb 12, 2018 at 8:23

1 Answer 1


In theory, the House and the Senate merely tweak the White House budget, whose main use in essence is to sketch out the latter's priorities. And frankly, that's more or less what occurs when the House and Senate are on the same wavelength as the White House.

In practice, the three aren't on the same wavelength more often than not. This results in a lot of haggling between the three to get things passed, and at times rewriting of the budget in bulk by the House and/or Senate as you note in your question. As you'll see from the pdf chart in the previous link, in recent memory:

  • Democrats were in control of the House and Senate for the better part of the 1930s to 1990s.
  • Reagan and GHW Bush never had both on their side.
  • Clinton, GW Bush, and Obama only had both on their side at the beginning of their respective tenures.
  • Trump (currently) has both on his side - but with an extra twist discussed below.

Put another way, in recent memory it was typical for one or both of the House and Senate to not have the same political leaning as the White House, resulting in intense haggling between the three as mentioned above. And since it is Congress that holds the budget purse at the end of the day, the White House is often on the receiving end of a budget rewritten by Congress.

At this point, the rise of the Christian Right in the 1970s and the more recent rise of the Alt-Right is worth a mention in my opinion. Neither group is particularly compromising, to put things mildly. That makes reaching a consensus harder and even more prone to legislative pissing contests, where this or that pet item gets funded or defunded so everyone can come back to voters with a pound of flesh. (This is not to say that traditional Republicans and Democrats are easy to deal with; rather, it is that dealing with the two hardline groups is even harder.) Notice, in passing, that this coincides with the House and Senate turning red, which I'd argue is indicative of the notion that the bolder they are the better they fare.

At any rate, Trump's case is a bit special in my view because, in contrast with Reagan or the two Bushs, who had the backing of traditional Republicans with the Christian Right latched on as a bonus, Trump primarily has the backing of the Alt-Right and the Christian Right, with the traditional Republicans (somewhat disgruntledly) latched on. What more, he has been divisive enough since the beginning of his presidency that he's facing resistance within the Republican party. As such, he ends up in the odd position of needing to reach compromises with the House and Senate even though the latter are both (nominally) in his team.

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    "In practice, the three aren't on the same wavelength". This is what makes America great. I hope people never forget that concentrating too much power in the hands of a few people is wrong. This constant back and forth bickering is what checks the power of the Federal Government Feb 12, 2018 at 13:55
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    Trump's problems seem to stem more from difficulties with the sixty vote cloture requirement than intraparty disagreements. The only initiative where fifty votes would have sufficed that failed was the Obamacare repeal. This was less of a problem for Reagan because of the Southern Democrats.
    – Brythan
    Feb 12, 2018 at 15:17
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    I would also point out the sources are really progressive Op-Ed pieces that are as much if not more propoganda than any attempt at true reporting. Feb 12, 2018 at 16:12
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    @SoylentGray, "the sources are Op-Ed": The plural seems inaccurate. This answer cites two sources: 1. a Wikipedia article that's pure stats, and 2. a Randall Balmer Politico article arguing that incessant racism remains a more potent political motivator than religion in the South.
    – agc
    Feb 12, 2018 at 16:43
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    @SpencerJoplin: The why is covered in the first paragraph: it's a statement of intent, and there's frankly not much to add to this beyond writing it. The rest of the answer covers why things have been looking dysfunctional in the past couple of decades, which I understand is what led you to ask the question in the first place. Feb 13, 2018 at 18:27

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