By now, the choreography used by a White House when it releases the president’s budget is almost standard.
It starts with the State of the Union Address the week before the release during which the president lays out the budget in broad themes in a nationally televised speech that typically draws the biggest audience the White House garners all year. That usually results in several days of positive front page news coverage.
That’s followed by carefully selected interviews and briefings that manage the news through the end of the week.
The weekend adds to the buildup when the director of the Office of Management and Budget and other key administration officials appear on one or more Sunday talk shows and divulge a few more budget details. This continues to create headlines.
The president’s budget is then released on Monday and the White House’s proposals dominate the news cycle for several additional days.
The schedule and choreography might be different this year, however, because the White House has been talking about delaying for a week or so the State of the Union from the originally planned date of January 26. There is no legal requirement that the address be delivered on a particular date (or a requirement that it be delivered in person), so the administration is free to choose whatever date it wants.
Tuesday, February 2 has been mentioned as a possibility. There is some controversy about this date, however, because the first episode of the final season of “Lost” on ABC is scheduled to air that night. (This is what happens when you deliver a speech in prime time). As a result, the SOTU date has not yet been set.
It’s this date, or anything later, that would force a big change in the budget choreography. The statutory deadline for submitting the president’s budget to Congress is the first Monday in February. This year that’s February 1, so complying with the deadline while delaying the State of the Union would mean that the week of activities leading up to the budget release would have to start without the big boost created by a nationally televised speech in the majestic House of Representatives chamber to a cheering group of Democrats who repeatedly interrupt the president with standing ovations.
There is no penalty or sanction for missing the budget submission deadline, so the White House could decide to delay its release until after the SOTU. There will be some grumbling from congressional Republicans, of course. But beyond the six people reading this post, it’s not clear who outside the Washington Beltway cares so much about the budget release date that it will become a major issue.
It’s possible, of course, that the administration will submit its fiscal 2011 budget on February 1 as required and then come up with some new innovative choreography that meets the revised schedule. For example, the White House might decide to use the State of the Union to give a boost to its budget a week or so after it has been submitted to Congress and just at the point at which media interest in what the president has proposed typically dies down.
That would require a more aggressive release of the budget than we’ve seen in quite some time.