What Not to Ask of Budget Processes: Lessons from George W. Bush’s Years


Joseph White is the Luxenberg Family Professor of Public Policy, a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics, and the chair of the Department of Political Science at Case Western Reserve University. His research interests range from federal budgeting to international comparisons of health care finance.
E-mail: joseph.white@case.edu


Budget reform requires goals that are both good public policy and achievable. The core purpose of budgeting is to consider and relate details and totals. Common demands for reform are dubious because they slight consideration of details. For this reason, too strict a definition of “balance” would be bad policy; the demand for balance over many decades is neither good policy nor realistic; and multiyear discretionary spending caps can be both bad policy and impractical. Concern about passing annual budget resolutions ignores the fact that the major reason for annual totals is no longer endorsed by policy makers and economists. Scorekeeping should be honest and accurate and often can be improved, but possible achievements are limited. Budget reforms will not make government accountable if the governing coalition is united in seeking to avoid that, and if neither the public nor elites demand it.