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Budget talk can make most people sweat. Especially when there's just a limited amount that must be apportioned for several needs and wants. It can be a tedious exercise but necessary, especially with a fixed income or paycheck that is not likely to increase even as prices continue to skyrocket.
For individuals, the common mistake when budgeting is to leave savings for last. This means they only save whatever amount is left after all expenses have been taken cared of. Which I have proven to be utterly wrong. You will never get to save a cent this way, or at least not a decent amount.
It's always best to first set aside the amount to save (10 to 20 percent of your income is most ideal), then divide the remainder for expenses. Whatever's left can be used for wants or to treat yourself.
At this time when money is tight because income opportunities, particularly for those employed or who lost their livelihood, are limited, budgeting can be a headache. But with discipline and sacrifice, being able to pay for all you need with scarce resources (and save, too) is a huge achievement.
In the same way that budgeting expenses for personal use with extremely limited funds is a challenge, so is making a budget that runs in the billions or trillions, like a national budget. That's why it takes a hundred or more heads to scrutinize such a budget to ensure that every centavo (ideally) will be put to good use and not wasted.
Congress, or more specifically the House of Representatives composed of congressmen and women, has the power of the purse. In other words, they have the last say whether to approve, amend or reject items in the budget submitted by the executive branch.
The national budget is submitted to them usually following the President's State of the Nation Address before the end of July, or at the latest, the first week of August.
Although it is the House's prerogative to approve or amend the budget, the Senate also has a say in this, for check and balance. If there are provisions in the budget approved by the House that differs from what the Senate passed, these must be reconciled in a bicameral conference committee before it is finalized for submission to the President for signing into law.
Legislators have until early December (before they go on a six week-long Christmas break) to pass the budget. If the General Appropriations Act is not enacted by the end of each calendar year, the previous year's budget will be re-enacted.
That means the same appropriations for the previous year will be utilized by government for its operations. This usually presents a problem because expenditures for the new year have usually been adjusted taking into consideration inflation, additional expenditures or as in the case now, funding emergencies such as the pandemic.
There have been instances in the past when the annual budget was not passed on time, and had to be re-enacted. To compensate for the shortfall in funds, a supplemental budget is usually submitted and goes through the same process to be able to provide for funds for expected expenditures like adjustments in salaries and wages, additional hiring of personnel, purchase of new equipment, and funding of more infrastructure for development.
News about this year's budget deliberations in Congress reminded me of all those years when I, as a journalist, had to cover hearings for each of the government agencies.
Budget hearings for one agency, especially the controversial ones like the Departments of Health, Education, Interior and Local Government, can take hours, even to the wee hours of the morning, to finish.
The appropriations committee takes the lead in these sessions, and with its membership of more than 50 congressmen, it can take forever to deliberate. Why? Because every congressman is given the privilege to question the Cabinet Secretary or any other official regarding issues pertaining to the agency.
We're not talking of one or two questions per legislator here. Some can hog the floor for hours! So it is excruciating for the officials and their underlings who must be ready with data to support the official in answering queries thrown at them.
It is also very tedious for the media who cover these sessions, especially to wait for something 'explosive' to come out of the coverage that is newsworthy or even page one material.
While reporters aren't grilled when they sit on these hearings, it is having to listen to everything that's going on and filtering information that can make for news that is so challenging.
Imagine if you pick up three issues that can be developed into a story! Often, we come out of the meeting rooms so dazed after hours of coverage and then have to sit down to write the stories to meet our deadlines. (The only upside to hearings is being fed for free - snacks, lunch and even dinner, and unlimited coffee).
And then if the hearing isn't over, we have to go back in to cover some more lest we get out-scooped of another huge story. Sometimes, the congressmen in their earnestness to interrogate just luckily trip on some detail that turns into some breaking news.
This goes on for several months. After the mother agency has presented its budget request, more hearings will be conducted for each sub-agency. The only good thing during this budget season is that reporters rarely run out of material for stories, even during weekends.
But the stress of sitting in on these hearings can take a toll on a journalist and you just want to run out of the room screaming after your brains have been overloaded with so much information, some good, others inane, some downright despicable.
You just learn to filter what you need to follow and listen closely to what's being said to avoid making mistakes when reporting.
And covering the hearings is just one part of the process. We also had to seek out either the congressmen or official to ask more questions in support of the revelations made during the deliberations.
After committee hearings (first reading), the budget will be presented to the whole body to pass on second reading. This will take another marathon session, a week typically, and more grandstanding will occur.
Voting for second reading is only viva voce (ayes or nays), but a thunderous applause often follows this because of the months of deliberations.
While a proposed law is deemed finally passed on third reading, this is usually just a formality, where lawmakers must individually state their vote to be recorded.
Budget hearings can be a circus, depending on the players and the issue. But it is also a wealth of information, if you care to truly learn about governance and how government runs.
I think I will stick to my personal budgeting. Suddenly, even with limited funds, it's so much easier and really less of a headache.