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The Congressional Budget Process and the Aggregate Level of Spending

  • Dhammika Dharmapala

    (Univeristy of Connecticut)

This paper analyzes whether the Congressional budget process (instituted in 1974) leads to lower aggregate spending than does the piece-meal appropriations process that preceded it. Previous theoretical analysis, using spatial models of legislator preferences, is inconclusive. This paper uses a model of interest group lobbying, where a legislature determines spending on a national public good and on subsidies to subsets of the population that belong to nationwide sector-specific interest groups. In the appropriations process, the Appropriations Committee proposes a budget, maximizing the joint welfare of voters and the interest groups, that leads to overspending on subsidies. In the budget process, a Budget Committee proposes an aggregate level of spending (the budget resolution); the Appropriations Committee then proposes a budget. If the lobby groups are not subject to a binding resource constraint, the two institutional structures lead to identical outcomes. With such a constraint, however, there is a free rider problem among the groups in lobbying the Budget Committee, as each group only obtains a small fraction of the benefits from increasing the aggregate budget. If the number of groups is sufficiently large, each takes the budget resolution as given, and lobbies only the Appropriations Committee. The main results are that aggregate spending is lower, and social welfare higher, under the budget process; however, provision of the public good is suboptimal. The paper also presents two extensions: the first endogenizes the enforcement of the budget resolution by incorporating the relevant procedural rules into the model. The second analyzes statutory budget rules that limit spending levels, but can be revised by a simple majority vote. In each case,the free rider problem prevents the groups from securing the required changes to procedural and budget rules.

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Paper provided by University of Connecticut, Department of Economics in its series Working papers with number 2002-13.

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Length: 47 pages
Date of creation: Oct 2002
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:uct:uconnp:2002-13
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  1. Torsten Persson & Gerard Roland & Guido Tabellini, 2000. "Comparative Politics and Public Finance," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 108(6), pages 1121-1161, December.
  2. Dharmapala, Dhammika, 1999. "Comparing tax expenditures and direct subsidies: the role of legislative committee structure," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 72(3), pages 421-454, June.
  3. McKelvey, Richard D. & Riezman, Raymond., 1990. "Seniority in Legislatures," Working Papers 725, California Institute of Technology, Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences.
  4. Giovanni Maggi & Pinelopi Koujianou Goldberg, 1999. "Protection for Sale: An Empirical Investigation," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(5), pages 1135-1155, December.
  5. Gene M. Grossman & Elhanan Helpman, 1992. "Protection For Sale," NBER Working Papers 4149, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. John Ferejohn, 1986. "Incumbent performance and electoral control," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 50(1), pages 5-25, January.
  7. Dixit, Avinash & Grossman, Gene M. & Helpman, Elhanan, 1997. "Common Agency and Coordination: General Theory and Application to Government Policy Making," Scholarly Articles 3450061, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  8. Persson, Torsten & Roland, Gerard & Tabellini, Guido, 1997. "Separation of Powers and Political Accountability," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 112(4), pages 1163-1202, November.
  9. Persson, Torsten, 1998. "Economic Policy and Special Interest Politics," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 108(447), pages 310-27, March.
  10. Gramlich, Edward M, 1990. "U.S. Federal Budget Deficits and Gramm-Rudman-Hollings," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 80(2), pages 75-80, May.
  11. Gilligan, Thomas W & Krehbiel, Keith, 1987. "Collective Decisionmaking and Standing Committees: An Informational Rationale for Restrictive Amendment Procedures," Journal of Law, Economics and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 3(2), pages 287-335, Fall.
  12. Inman, Robert P. & Rubinfeld, Daniel L., 1996. "Designing tax policy in federalist economies: An overview," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 60(3), pages 307-334, June.
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