Senate Chairman Floats Fix for "Broken Budget Process"

Sen. Mike Enzi, chairman of the Budget Committee, will release a detailed proposal Wednesday to overhaul the congressional budget process and change the way the federal government is funded for the first time in four decades.

The Wyoming lawmaker’s proposal, obtained exclusively by RealClearPolitics, would move Congress to a two-year appropriations process to prevent annual deadlines, create mandatory floor time to consider appropriations measures in both chambers, and eliminate the possibility of government shutdowns by automatically funding the government in the event appropriations measures aren’t passed on time.

Budget bills set overall spending, while 12 appropriations bills set specific funding levels, and all are taken up annually. Congress has passed all 12 appropriations measures on time just four times in four decades, and has not passed all 12 bills in nearly 20 years, which is why most lawmakers agree the budget process is broken.

This week, Congress is rushing toward its second continuing resolution of the year to sustain funding at current levels through April, when it will likely face another potential shutdown deadline.

Enzi called the reforms “one of my top priorities in the new Congress.”

“Hardworking taxpayers are eager for real change. With a new President taking office on January 20th, Congress has an opportunity -- and responsibility -- to get to work,” Enzi said in a statement. “One of our top priorities should be fixing America’s broken budget process to provide our nation with a responsible fiscal blueprint and help guide our spending decisions now and into the future.”

Enzi’s proposals are a more detailed version of a plan he began to lay out earlier this year after a series of hearings and sessions with fellow lawmakers on the problem. It’s not legislation and he hasn’t yet sought co-sponsors, but it’s instead an opening bid Enzi hopes will kick-start a more serious conversation next year about enacting major changes.

Enzi isn’t alone. Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., released the outline of a proposal earlier this year that would overhaul the process, making the budget mandatory, changing the committee structure and docking members’ pay if they don’t complete the process. And Georgia Rep. Tom Price -- the current House Budget Committee chairman and President-elect Trump’s nominee to lead the Department of Health and Human Services -- last month laid out a proposal that would shift to a two-year process and create a mandatory budget limit, enforceable with automatic spending cuts.

Democrats slammed the Price plan, which they said would allow Republicans to trigger cuts to Social Security and Medicare through the budget process. Price’s proposal is unlikely to receive any bipartisan support in the new Congress, and thus is doubtful to move forward, especially if he is confirmed to lead HHS. But Enzi’s plan did not have the same proposal to make changes to entitlement spending, and thus could potentially receive more bipartisan support.

Instead, Enzi’s plan would force lawmakers to establish a long-term target for debt as a percentage of the economy, with compliance certified by the White House Office of Management and Budget. It would also force Congress to list in its budget report automatic spending programs, such as Social Security or Medicare, and the revenue and borrowing used to fund the programs. The goal is to more accurately track entitlement spending, which would likely give lawmakers more incentive to consider the long-term sustainability of the programs.

Lastly, in an effort to force Congress to the table to handle the nation’s long-term fiscal problems, Enzi’s proposal would establish a task force, with members appointed by both parties and the president, to create policy recommendations to shrink the debt long-term. The task force would have to put those recommendations into legislation by November 2017, and they would receive an up-or-down vote from lawmakers.

By:  James Arkin
Source: Real Clear Politics