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Federal Budget Rules: The US Experience

  • Alan J. Auerbach

Like many other developed economies, the United States has imposed fiscal rules in attempting to impose a degree of fiscal discipline on the political process of budget determination. The federal government has operated under a series of budget control regimes that have been complex in nature and of debatable impact. Much of the complexity of these federal budget regimes relates to the structure of the U.S. federal government. The controversy over the impact of different regimes relates to the fact that the rules have no constitutional standing, leading to the question of whether they do more than clarify a government's intended policies. In this paper, I review US federal budget rules and present some evidence on their possible effects. From an analysis of how components of the federal budget behaved under the different budget regimes, it appears that the rules did have some effects, rather than simply being statements of policy intentions. The rules may also have had some success at deficit control, although such conclusions are highly tentative given the many other factors at work during the different periods. Even less certain is the extent to which the various rules achieved whatever objectives underlay their introduction.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 14288.

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Date of creation: Aug 2008
Date of revision:
Publication status: published as Alan Auerbach, 2009. "US Experience with Federal Budget Rules," CESifo DICE Report, Ifo Institute for Economic Research at the University of Munich, vol. 7(1), pages 41-48, 04.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:14288
Note: PE
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  1. James M. Poterba, 1996. "Do Budget Rules Work?," NBER Working Papers 5550, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Alan J. Auerbach, 2004. "Budget Windows, Sunsets, and Fiscal Control," NBER Working Papers 10694, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Alan J. Auerbach, 2003. "Fiscal Policy, Past and Present," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 34(1), pages 75-138.
  4. Dharmapala, Dhammika, 2006. "The Congressional budget process, aggregate spending, and statutory budget rules," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 90(1-2), pages 119-141, January.
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