Forbes columnist and former Treasure Department economist Bruce Bartlett explains how federal financial planning has evolved over time.
On Feb. 1 President Obama sent his budget for fiscal year 2011 to Capitol Hill, where it promptly disappeared after a brief flurry of news reports. Republicans are keen to claim that the virtual disappearance of the president's budget from view signals a dissatisfaction with his priorities. In fact, it is simply part of a long-term trend that has been going on for many years.
It may surprise people to learn that throughout most of American history there was no budget at all, at least not in the sense that we use the term today. Up until the Civil War Congress handled all the budgeting. Monies were appropriated to the executive branch for various purposes and it had the responsibility of spending them. At the end of the year the various agencies totaled their spending and someone on Capitol Hill added it up. That was the budget.