Momentum growing to revamp Washington’s ‘broken’ budget process

There is new momentum to revamp Washington’s Groundhog Day-like budget process.

The Senate’s recent vote to embrace a biennial budget, coupled with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) endorsement, has significantly boosted the chances it could pass in this Congress.

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The budget revamp would require the president to propose a budget every other year at the beginning of each Congress. Backers say a biennial budget would give lawmakers more time to focus on oversight and policy areas instead of constantly trying to meet spending deadlines, which are often missed.

Sens. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) have introduced bills on budget reform. Isakson successfully passed an amendment on the Senate’s non-binding budget resolution on this issue earlier this month.

“I am very pleased,” said Wilson of the Senate’s action, which passed on a 68-31 vote. “This is clearly a bipartisan initiative because each president since Ronald Reagan has supported it, not to mention that it is currently in effect in 20 states…I hope additional House members will take a look at it as it is truly a step forward in restoring order to the budget process.”

While former President Clinton backed a biennial budget, President Obama has not yet weighed in.

Wilson has said that shifting from a one-year to a two-year budget process “will allow Congress to devote more time and attention to the wasteful programs and policies that need reform.”

The Isakson/Shaheen bill has 10 co-sponsors, including Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Angus King (I-Maine) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio).

Wilson’s bill has been referred to three committees: Budget, Rules, and Oversight and Government Reform.  Wilson told The Hill that “now that we have this pleasantly surprising boost in the Senate, I will be in touch with committee chairs as well as leadership in order to help move this bill through the House.”

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) have previously backed the biennial idea.

Yet, members of the Appropriations Committee have expressed opposition. Some critics have said that moving away from an annual budget process would lead to more government spending, not less.

Wilson points out that a prominent member of the Appropriations panel, Rep. Bill Young (R-Fla.), is a co-sponsor.

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

Shaheen said earlier this month that the appropriations process is “broken,” adding, “Since Ronald Reagan, we’ve only had two budgets that have been done on time.”

The Isakson/Shaheen bill could come up during this year’s discussions on raising the debt ceiling.

In 2011, Boehner said it would be “irresponsible” to raise the nation’s debt ceiling without taking significant steps to reduce spending and “reform the budget process.”