Budget Resolution Enforcement

Budget Resolution Enforcement
Bill Heniff Jr.
Analyst on the Congress and Legislative Process
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 new budget authority, outlays, revenues,
the deficit, and the public debt for each of the fiscal years covered. While the budget
resolution does not become law, the Congressional Budget Act of 1974 (Titles I-IX of
P.L. 93-344, 2 U.S.C. 601-688), as amended, provides for the enforcement of its
provisions as they are implemented in subsequent annual appropriations bills, revenue
measures, and other budgetary legislation. For more information on the budget process,
see the CRS Guides to Congressional Processes at [http://www.crs.gov/products/guides/
Once a budget resolution is adopted, Congress may enforce its provisions, through
points of order, at several levels: the total levels of spending and revenues, 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, revenue, and debt limit provisions of a budget resolution (see
CRS Report 98-814, Budget Reconciliation Legislation: Development and
At the aggregate level, Section 311(a) of the Budget Act prohibits the House and
Senate from considering any measure that would cause the spending or revenue totals for
the first fiscal year, or the revenue totals 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 Budget Act.
Although 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 instead are
translated into allocations to the relevant House and Senate committees with jurisdiction
over spending under Section 302(a) of the Budget Act. It is these committee spending
allocations, commonly referred to as 302(a) allocations and published in the joint
explanatory statement accompanying the conference report on a budget resolution, that
are enforceable by a point of order on the floor of each chamber. Section 302(f) of the
Budget Act prohibits the consideration of any measure, including any amendment, that
would cause a committee’s 302(a) allocations for the first fiscal year and for the full
period covered by the budget resolution to be exceeded.

The chairs of the Budget Committees may make adjustments to the total levels set
forth in a budget resolution, and the associated committee spending allocations, after the
budget resolution has been agreed to by Congress, under the terms of certain provisions,
such as a reserve fund, contained in the budget resolution.
Soon after the budget resolution is adopted by Congress, the House and Senate
Appropriations Committees, under Section 302(b) of the Budget Act, subdivide their
committee spending allocations among their subcommittees and formally report these
subcommittee allocations to their respective chambers. The Appropriations Committees
may revise the subcommittee allocations, commonly referred to as Section 302(b)
allocations, during the appropriations process. Section 302(c) prohibits the consideration
of any appropriations measure in the House or Senate before each respective committee
has made the required subcommittee allocations. Once reported, the 302(b) allocations
effectively represent spending ceilings on each of the regular appropriations acts. Section
302(f) of the Budget Act prohibits the consideration of an appropriations measure, or an
amendment, that would cause a 302(b) allocation to be exceeded.
The Budget Act also provides for Senate enforcement of the Social Security levels
set forth in a budget resolution. Section 311(a)(3) of the Budget Act 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 self-
enforcing: a Member must raise a point of order to enforce the spending and revenue
amounts included in a budget resolution. Budget enforcement points of order also may
be waived. In the House, a point of order may be waived by unanimous consent, by
suspension of the rules, or by a special rule reported by the Rules Committee and adopted
by the full House. In the Senate, Budget Act points of order may be waived by unanimous
consent or by motion as provided under Section 904 of the Budget Act. A motion to
waive most Budget Act points of order requires an affirmative vote of three-fifths of all
Senators duly chosen and sworn (60 votes if there are no vacancies). Congress may
consider and pass legislation even if it violates the provisions of a budget resolution if no
point of order is made or an applicable point of order is waived.
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 and the Joint Committee on Taxation
(for revenue measures), are responsible for scorekeeping in Congress. Section 312 of the
Budget Act requires that the determination of budget resolution violations be based on
estimates made by the Budget Committees.