- 1,440,000 Minutes
- 24,000 Hours
- 142 Weeks
- 1000 Days
- 2 yrs, 8 months, 26 days
Whichever metric one uses, it’s still astonishing that the Senate has not passed a budget since April 29, 2009. January 23, 2011 will mark the 1,000-day. No budget, and yet, a $4+ trillion increase in deficit for the same period.
What could be causing the delay? Is there a reason for the delay? The cynic might deduce that if congress doesn’t have a budget, congress doesn’t have to be held accountable to that budget. They don’t have to make tough decisions. They can still keep spending the taxpayer’s money as if the economic climate hadn’t changed. It is so much easier to play Santa then CFO in Washington.
But is a budget even important? If one looks at Merriam-Webster’s definition of a budget, it is “A plan for the coordination of resources and expenditures.”
With trillions of dollars annually in receipts and outlays, our federal government must surely have a fiscally responsible plan and working processes for the effective and efficient handling and usage of taxpayer money. There certainly must be ongoing discussions as to priorities and changes needed when receipts go down…and yet, no budget, no plan.
So if our elected officials are struggling with making the difficult decisions. What can be done to help “nudge” them towards fiscally prudent vs. politically expedient decisions?
The House Budget Committee, led by Chairman Paul Ryan, recently rolled out a budget reform package which includes ten common sense pieces of legislation geared towards helping fix the broken federal budget process.
These bills include processes, many used by successful businesses, such as sunset reviews of all programs to ensure they still are doing what they said they were touted to do, are being done effectively and efficiently, and whether, based on the current economic climate, they should be re-prioritized, adjusted, or dropped. Another bill includes removing the automatic inflation increases built into the current budget process, while a third one provides automatic funding at a slightly reduced rate if Congress fails to enact appropriations bills by the beginning of the fiscal year. These could help eliminate the seemingly unending last minute threats of government shutdowns, many times (cynic speaking) used just for political purposes.
Common sense, logical, best practices…what is the challenge? The challenge is that the same group of individuals who haven’t passed a budget in 1,000 days would have to pass these bills to help/encourage/incent/force them do their job. These would put constraints on them, not something they have shown an inclination to do historically.
The House Budget Committee’s Budget Reform Package includes the following:
- HR 3575: The Legally Binding Budget Act: Gives the budget the force of law by converting it from a concurrent to a joint resolution, which requires the President’s signature. Upon a presidential veto, the joint resolution automatically reverts to a concurrent resolution.
- HR 3576: The Spending Control Act: Establishes binding limitations on federal spending and deficits – all enforced by a sequester of no more than 4 percent of programs – within each category if the program is growing faster than inflation.
- HR 3521: The Expedited Line-Item Veto and Rescissions Act: Provides for the expedited consideration by Congress of specific requests by the President to reduce discretionary spending in appropriations legislation. (ten Dems co-sponsors)
- HR 3577: The Biennial Budgeting and Enhanced Oversight Act: Establishes a biennial budgeting cycle where Congress adopts a budget resolution in the first session of Congress (i.e., odd-numbered years) and considers authorization legislation in the second session, providing greater opportunities for review of government spending. (one Dem co-sponsor)
- HR 3578: The Baseline Reform Act: Reforms the budget “baseline” to remove automatic inflation increases in discretionary accounts, and to require a comparison to the previous year’s spending levels.
- HR 3583: The Government Shutdown Prevention Act: If Congress fails to enact appropriations bills by the beginning of the fiscal year (Oct. 1), provides automatic authority to fund programs at a slightly reduced rate from the previous year’s level. (one Dem co-sponsor)
- HR 3579: The Review Every Dollar Act: Requires periodic sunset reviews and reauthorization of all federal programs to ensure the programs perform an appropriate role and are operating effectively.
- Requires all transfers from the general fund to the Highway Trust Fund to be offset or counted as new spending.
- Removes all direct spending provisions from Pell Grants and moves all funding to the discretionary spending category.
- Requires any new rule or regulation promulgated by the administration that includes new spending to be explicitly funded by Congress before such regulations take effect.
- Provides a mechanism through which Members can devote savings from spending bills to deficit reduction.
- HR 3580: The Balancing our Obligations for the Long Term (BOLT) Act: Caps total spending over the long term to reduce the burden of government to no more than 20 percent of the economy by gradually reducing spending.
HR 3581: The Budget and Accounting Transparency Act
- Requires Congress to review long-term budget trends every five years and provides a fast-track legislative process to put federal spending on a sustainable path.
- Authorizes reconciliation of long-term savings (beyond the current limit of the budget resolution’s typical 10-year window, up to 75 years) in Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.
- Requires CBO long-term estimates beyond the 10-year window.
- Requires the President’s budget to extend beyond the 10-year window.
- Strengthens the statutory requirement directing the President to submit legislation to save Medicare if the general fund subsidy to the program exceeds 45 percent of the program’s costs.
- Requires GAO and OMB to report annually on the federal government’s unfunded obligations.
HR 3582: The Pro-Growth Budgeting Act
- Reforms the Credit Reform Act to incorporate Fair Value accounting principles.
- Recognizes the budgetary impact of the GSEs by formally bringing the entities on-budget.
- Brings the U.S. Postal Service on-budget.
- Requires a CBO & OMB study on offsetting receipts/collections/revenues.
- Requires all federal agencies make public the budgetary justification materials prepared in support of their requests for taxpayer dollars.
- Requires CBO to provide an assessment of the macroeconomic impact of major legislation.