It's almost October. Do you have plans yet for fiscal New Year’s Eve?
Or maybe you did not know that the dawn of Oct. 1 marks the beginning of Washington’s fiscal year – the annual breakpoint of the budget, when appropriations from 2010 are supposed to end and those of 2011 begin.
On the night before the big day, bureaucrats jam Farragut Square. Amid a blizzard of ripped-up Federal Registers, they count the seconds to midnight, when a guest host – this year it’s Peter Orszag, President Obama’s ex-budget chief – flips a switch, dropping a crystal ball that glows red or black, depending on the state of the government’s finances.
Just kidding. That doesn’t happen.
But here’s a real question: Why doesn’t the US fiscal year begin later? It’s been years since Congress wrapped up all the annual appropriations bills by Oct. 1. If lawmakers had until the end of the calendar year, maybe things would run more smoothly.
Well, perhaps. Stranger things have happened. There’s a rumor that the federal budget was actually in surplus only a few years ago.
However, if it were on Jan. 1, the nation’s fiscal New Year would be after Election Day in even-numbered years. That would remove any electoral pressure lawmakers feel to try to make the budget train run on time.
Plus, the White House submits its proposed budget in early February. If the fiscal year began in January, administrations wouldn’t have much time to prepare those figures. You could push back the budget submission deadline, too – but then you’d just have shifted the amount of time Congress has in which to consider appropriations, instead of adding to it.
July 1 used to mark the US fiscal New Year. Congress rolled it back in 1974 to October, and that does not appear to have made the process any prettier. So for now, we’re probably stuck with a fiscal New Year that occurs in the same month as Halloween.
Which may be appropriate.