Enzi shares plans for revamping budget process

Senate Budget Chairman Michael B. Enzi unveiled a sweeping proposal Tuesday to overhaul the budget process at what could be an opportune time. 

With the 2011-era discretionary spending caps set to expire in fiscal 2021 and annual deficits soon projected to top $1 trillion a year, Congress could be more open than usual to ways to revamp the budget process.

Enzi, R-Wyo., has written four draft bills aimed at tightening fiscal controls, strengthening budget enforcement, commissioning additional services from the Congressional Budget Office and abbreviating but not eliminating the Senate’s so-called vote-a-rama. 

One of the most intriguing proposals is to keep the budget resolution as a concurrent resolution, which is never signed into law, but allow it to automatically generate a joint resolution that would set discretionary spending caps and extend the debt limit for two years. If the president signed it, it would become law and OMB would enforce the spending caps.

In a floor speech Tuesday, Enzi said he sought extensive input when preparing the proposals, which he said "are not driven by politics" but aimed at reorienting the budget around long-term planning.

The proposal to spin off regular legislation setting budget limits from a budget resolution would encourage the president and Congress "to reach agreement early in the budget process," he said.

For the past several years, Enzi has been working with fellow Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Budget Committee to develop budget process changes that can win bipartisan support. He also has consulted with the White House Office of Management and Budget and CBO, aides said. In April 2017, the Budget Committee approved several rules changes advocated by Enzi that were designed to make the budget process more transparent. Those changes only required committee approval. 

Enzi’s office shared the four proposals with staff of other members of the Budget Committee earlier Tuesday.

Other highlights of the plans include:

Moving to a two-year cycle for both budget resolutions and appropriations.

Establishing a debt-to-GDP ratio in the budget resolution which, if not achieved, would lead to a reconciliation bill in the second year to reduce the deficit. Traditional reconciliation that does not require deficit reduction would remain an option.

Renaming the Budget Committee the Fiscal Control Committee and adding, as nonvoting members, the chairmen and ranking members of the Finance and Appropriations committees if they are not already voting members. A GOP aide said this and related proposals are aimed at increasing buy-in from outside committees. 

Switching from the issuance of two CBO baselines or projections of spending early in the year — in January and March — to a single baseline early in the year. OMB would be required to provide CBO with budget data earlier to allow construction of the baseline.

Speeding the consideration of appropriations bills by making the motion to proceed to an appropriation bill no longer subject to filibuster in the Senate. 

Requiring CBO to make public its cost estimates for appropriations bills.

Some of the proposals are likely to be controversial, such as the suggestion to change appropriations from annual bills to two-year bills. That idea is opposed by many, but not all, appropriators. 

Other proposals have been backed by Democrats and Republicans on the Budget Committee, and several have been pushed by outside budget groups.

A GOP aide said Enzi is seeking input on the draft legislation. It is unclear whether the Budget Committee will mark up any of the legislation in the fall, or potentially next year. Enzi is not seeking reelection next year.

By:  Paul Krawzak
Source: CQ