Abstract

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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