With the House and Senate back from Spring Break this week, committee work begins in earnest on the twelve appropriations bills that will combine to set federal spending for fiscal year 2017, which begins in October. By now, the House should have settled on a budget, and sent it to the Senate for their consideration and approval, thus setting the parameters the appropriators use in their bill markups.
But that would mean that the budgeting process was working properly. Unfortunately, it isn’t.
Back on March 15th, the House Budget Committee proposed a balanced budget with FY 2017 discretionary spending of $1.07 trillion, using the spending numbers agreed to by former Speaker John Boehner back in October. The House Freedom Caucus isn’t happy with that, and wants to cut at least $30 billion from the total. An agreement hasn’t been reached, and no debate on the issue is scheduled in the near future. What’s an appropriator to do? Schedule hearings on portions of the appropriations bills, using the $1.07 trillion number that awaits full House approval before the budget is considered in the Senate.
Last year, the House was able to pass a budget, only to see progress grind to a halt in the Senate, where Democrats refused to pass spending bills because they wanted to increase domestic and military spending. That refusal led to the passage of a continuing resolution to begin FY 2016. As lawmakers were eager to return home for the Christmas holiday, Congress passed the Omnibus spending bill for the year, known not so affectionately as the Cromnibus.
Georgia’s David Perdue, whose background is in business, not politics, spent his freshman year on the Senate Budget Committee looking at the way Congress budgets and appropriates the nation’s revenue, trying to figure out if there was a better way. He knew the budgeting process wasn’t working, and at the end of March proposed a series of changes to the budgeting process so it would work better.
Rep. Doug Collins faced four challengers at a debate last Saturday, and every one of them swore they would never vote yes on an omnibus bill should they be elected to the 9th district seat Collins currently occupies. Those in the audience were upset that the spending bill funded Planned Parenthood, The Affordable Care Act, and other government programs they call unconstitutional. I caught up with Collins after the debate, and he told me budget reform was one of the things he was concentrating on this year.
“We’re going to try and figure out what we’re going to with the budget and appropriations packages. That’s the biggest thing. Right now, we’re at a deadlock. The budget is not going anywhere. There are many of us who want to see changes get done.” Collins mentioned House Rule 21, which currently prevents any appropriations bill from affecting mandatory spending programs, as a possible change that could improve the budgeting process.
Senator Perdue has met with Senate Budget Chair Mike Enzi and House Budget Chair Tom Price, and according to his office, those conversations are continuing. The Senate Budget Commmittee meets today at 10:30 AM for a hearing entitled “Fixing the Broken Budget Process: Outcome Budgeting to Maximize Taxpayer Value.” In a story in The Hill, Chairman Enzi said, “I believe the congressional budget process is fundamentally broken. Only one budget resolution has been adopted by Congress in the past six years and only nine budgets have been adopted in past 18 years. Even when we do adopt a budget, it often fails to become a governing document.”
The Perdue spokesman was also optimistic that there is an appetite to fix the process. Neither party wants to be stuck in a position where they are forced to look at temporary patches. They are sick of having to pass continuing resolutions or omnibus bills. Rep. Collins was also optimistic. “I spoke with David [Perdue] briefly and I like what he’s going at. I think we can get back to a more authorizing and appropriating position instead of a position of doing the budget and having this two step process.”