Reid likes idea of budget every two years

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says Congress should consider passing a budget once every two years instead of once a year, as the law now requires.

The Nevada Democrat suggested Thursday the time has come to consider passing budgets with less frequency, which advocates say would improve the chances of debating appropriations bills on the Senate floor and give lawmakers more time to oversee government programs.

“This is something that’s been looked at by a lot of people. We’ve had over the years many people who said this is probably a good idea,” said Reid. “If we’re ever going to do that, we should take a look at [it] now because we are getting back into the appropriations process.

“It’s something we should look at,” Reid said.

Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) earlier in the day introduced legislation to convert the annual spending process to a biennial budgeting program.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle say the current budget process has become broken. The Senate has not passed a budget resolution since 2009 and stopgap spending measures often substitute for regular appropriations bills.

Reid said former Senate Democratic Leader George Mitchell (Maine) appointed him years ago to a special budget reform committee chaired by former Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) to study biennial budgeting.

The late Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), the powerful longtime chairman of the Appropriations Committee, quashed talk of switching to a biennial budget.

But Reid thinks now may be the right time to revive the idea.

“It’s something I would really like to take a look at. It’s something we should consider,” he said.

Shaheen said the budget and appropriations process has become so broken that lawmakers should consider drastic reform.

“The budget process is not working here the way it should. It’s broken. Since Ronald Reagan was president in 1980 we’ve had only two budgets that have been done on time,” she said. “We need to think about whether we really need to look at the process and whether it’s working the way it should.”

Shaheen served as governor of New Hampshire, which has a biennial budgeting process.

Shaheen has talked to Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) about the proposal.

Isakson said the proposal would garner strong Republican support.

“If you look at the history of it, Republicans and Democrats have both spoken out for it.” 

He added: "I think we had a headwind in the past but now it’s a tailwind. I think we have a real opportunity to make a change to the budget."

Isakson said the proposal attracted a bipartisan list of 37 Senate co-sponsors in the last Congress. 

He dismissed criticism that Congress would be shirking its fiscal responsibilities by passing a budget once every two years.

“We hadn’t done one in three years, why don’t we start doing one anytime,” he said. “We want to change what has become a very bad habit of no process at all.

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew endorsed biennial budgeting at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Finance Committee. Lew formally headed the White House budget office.

Isakson and Shaheen have offered an amendment to the continuing resolution being debated on the Senate floor that would switch Congress to a biennial budgeting process. 

Reid said a six-month spending measure is not the appropriate vehicle for making a dramatic shift in the congressional budgeting process, but he expressed willingness to consider it at another time.