Jul 20, 2017

The budget window is the number of years to which the spending and revenue decisions in a budget resolution apply. Law requires that the budget resolution cover at least five years — the upcoming year, plus the next four years.

While a 10-year window is currently the standard, the number of years covered by budget resolutions has varied. In the 1970s, 1-year resolutions were the norm; in the 1980s, the budget window lengthened to 3 years. Beginning in the 1990s, budget resolutions have most frequently covered 5 years, but there have been one 6-year, one 7-year, and six 10-year budget resolutions. The 2016 and 2017 budget resolutions each covered 10 years.

Recently, there have been calls to lengthen the budget window to 20 years or longer. There are several arguments in favor of a longer budget window:

  • It would encourage a longer-term approach to budgeting, forcing lawmakers to focus on the increasing gap between future spending and revenues and rising deficits and debt.
  • It would give lawmakers more information about the eventual costs or savings resulting from their decisions.
  • It would make it easier to attract support for the reforms that put our budget on a fiscally sustainable path over the long term, and encourage the adoption of more gradual reforms by reducing the risk of excessively austere near-term fiscal policy.

However, this potential change to the budget process also carries risks, and could be manipulated to avoid fiscal responsibility. For example, a longer budget window could be used to delay the fiscal discipline imposed by the Byrd Rule, which bars reconciliation legislation from including provisions that increase the deficit outside of the budget window.

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