Patrick CrowWith great fanfare early each year, a U.S. presidential administration announces its budget for the fiscal year beginning the following Oct. 1.
Reporters and lobbyists crowd auditoriums at federal agencies to witness cabinet secretaries make flashy presentations of budgets 8-9 months in the making.
The White House's Office of Management and Budget has reviewed each of them, and often requires the agencies to adjust their spending proposals to conform to the administration's priorities.
The Clinton OMB, for instance, has ordered agencies to allocate more money for global warming programs.
The budgets sometimes are laced with ideology. The last Clinton budget proposed taxes on the oil industry that it knows Congress has rejected-and surely will again.
In CongressBasically, an administration's budget is nothing more than a wish list.
When they receive it, the congressional budget committees compile budget resolutions-funding recommendations for each line-item in the federal budget.
Those guidelines go to the House and Senate appropriations subcommittees around Mar. 15, and are loosely followed as the subcommittees draft spending bills for the government departments.
The subcommittees hold hearings in February and March, often summoning the cabinet secretaries to explain their requests. The subcommittee bills are sent to the full committee and then to the full House or Senate over the next few months. Minor changes are sometimes made at both levels.
Conference committees merge the House and Senate-passed bills. Often the conference panel will make major concessions to key subcommittee members or congressional leaders for projects in their home districts. Both houses usually accept the conference bills unchanged.
If Congress cannot pass spending bills before the Oct. 1 deadline, it will pass a continuing resolution (CR), which extends funding. Appropriations bills or CRs become law when the President signs them.
RealitiesDespite an administration's grandstanding, it is Congress-particularly the appropriations subcommittee chairman-controlling the purse strings.
And legislators typically fund programs at levels they consider to be appropriate, despite the administration's ideas.
When the President represents a political party other than the one that controls Congress (as currently is the case), his budget is virtually dead on arrival.
However, an administration's decisions on budgeting projects, such as federal oil and gas research, is often a useful augur of policy trends.
Appropriations bills also can be used for back-door lawmaking, 1 year at a time.
For instance, conservationists lack the votes to pass a law banning offshore drilling. But for many years, they have been able to persuade appropriators to block funding for some lease sales.
To the chagrin of environmentalists, the oil industry recently borrowed their tactic. Last year, industry officials persuaded Congress to block funds for a controversial federal oil royalty rule until government negotiated further with them.
Copyright 1999 Oil & Gas Journal. All Rights Reserved.