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By Bill Wichert October 14, 2012

U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez says the Budget Control Act is the federal budget

When it comes to passing a budget, U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez hasn’t been doing his job, according to his Republican challenger, state Sen. Joe Kyrillos.

In a heated debate Wednesday on New Jersey 101.5-FM, the Democratic incumbent and Kyrillos argued over whether the U.S. Senate has passed a budget in the last three years. The two candidates will face off in the Nov. 6 general election.

"The Senate hasn’t passed a budget in three years," said Kyrillos, who represents part of Monmouth County. "That’s just a fact, hasn’t done it."

But Menendez said that wasn’t true: "Secondly, there is a budget. It’s called the Budget Control Act and you should look it up. You’d understand then that your statement about not having a budget for the last three years would be wrong."

So, is Menendez right that Kyrillos’ statement is inaccurate and the Senate has passed a budget "called the Budget Control Act"?

That legislation performs budgetary functions -- such as setting limits on certain types of future discretionary spending -- but the Act is not a budget plan under the official congressional budget process.

That kind of plan is called a "budget resolution" and the Senate hasn’t passed one in more than three years.

William Galston, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a former policy adviser to President Bill Clinton, said in an e-mail that "a completed budget is expected to do much more than set spending levels for discretionary programs."

Galston added, "The 2011 BCA kept the government open, but it didn’t constitute a full budget."
Let’s explain what a budget resolution is.

The House and Senate are supposed to adopt a budget resolution that covers the upcoming fiscal year and at least the following four fiscal years.

A budget resolution does not become law, but instead serves as the framework for appropriations bills and other subsequent legislation dealing with budgetary matters.

With Menendez voting yes, the Senate last passed a budget resolution on April 29, 2009 for fiscal year 2010. In the absence of a budget resolution, Congress has taken other steps to spend money and set certain budgetary guidelines.

Now, let’s turn to the Budget Control Act.

Enacted in August 2011, that legislation also included provisions to raise the nation’s debt ceiling, and set up a process that could trigger additional spending cuts. Menendez voted against the bill.

The Act is similar to a budget resolution in terms of setting those discretionary spending limits, according to Jason Peuquet, research director for the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a bipartisan organization focused on debt reduction.

But the legislation did not "set forth projections for mandatory spending and targeted revenue levels for five years," which budget resolutions do, Peuquet told us.

Harvard Law School professor Howell Jackson added in an e-mail that "I don’t think it’s fair to consider this a substitute for the actual adoption of a budget resolution, which has lots of other implications (and procedural vehicles for getting around the filibuster)."

In a statement, Mike Soliman, Menendez’s campaign manager, argued that Menendez didn’t say the Senate passed a budget resolution, but that it passed a budget.

"The Budget Control Act is stronger than a budget resolution because it actually has the force of law," Soliman added. "The Budget Control Act carries the force of law, it sets our spending limits for two years, and it actually dictates our nation's spending. A non-binding budget resolution does not."

Our ruling

During last week’s debate, Menendez claimed Kyrillos’ statement was wrong and that the Senate has passed "a budget" in the last three years, "called the Budget Control Act."

That Act set limits on discretionary spending, but it is missing other features of a "budget resolution," which is considered a budget plan under the official congressional budget process. The Senate hasn’t passed such a plan in more than three years.

We rate the statement False.

To comment on this ruling, go to

Our Sources

New Jersey 101.5FM, NJ U.S. Senate Candidates Argue Throughout Their Debate, Oct. 11, 2012

The Star-Ledger, Second debate between Menendez and Kyrillos gets more lively, Oct. 10, 2012

PolitiFact New Jersey, Congressman Leonard Lance claims the U.S. Senate has not passed a budget in more than three years, Sept. 12, 2012

Congressional Research Service, Congressional Budget Resolutions: Historical Information, March 13, 2012
Congressional Research Service, The Congressional Budget Process: A Brief Overview, Aug. 22, 2011

Senate Budget Committee, The Budget Control Act Serves as the Budget for 2012 and 2013, accessed Sept. 7, 2012
E-mail interview with Allen Schick, a public policy professor at the University of Maryland, Sept. 7, 2012
Phone and e-mail interviews with Jason Peuquet, research director at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, Sept. 7 and 10 and Oct. 11, 2012

Congressional Research Service, The Budget Control Act of 2011, Aug. 19, 2011

Congressional Research Service, The "Deeming Resolution": A Budget Enforcement Tool, June 26, 2012

E-mail interview with William Galston, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, Sept. 10, 2012
E-mail interview with Roy T. Meyers, political science professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Sept. 10-11, 2012

E-mail interview with Howell Jackson, professor at Harvard Law School, Sept. 10 and 18, 2012

PolitiFact, Romney says Obama failed to pass a budget, April 6, 2012

White House Office of Management and Budget, Fiscal Year 2013 Budget: Budget Concepts and Budget Process, accessed Oct. 11, 2012

E-mail interview with Paul Brubaker, communications director for Menendez campaign, Oct. 11-12, 2012

Budget Control Act of 2011, signed into law on Aug. 2, 2011

U.S. Government Printing Office, Overview of congressional budget process, accessed Sept. 11, 2012

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U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez says the Budget Control Act is the federal budget

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