GOP could push for two-year budget as price of deal to raise debt ceiling

GOP could push for two-year budget as price of deal to raise debt ceiling

Republican leaders are considering asking the White House to back a significant reform of the federal budget process in exchange for raising the nation’s debt ceiling.

The GOP wish list for hiking the debt ceiling will be long, and Republican sources contend that overhauling the annual appropriations process is in the mix.

ADVERTISEMENT

The proposed spending revamp, which has been pending in Congress for more than a decade, would require the president to submit a budget every other year at the beginning of the first session of Congress. 

Supporters say passing a two-year budget would allow Congress to focus more on oversight issues instead of constantly trying to hit spending deadlines, many of which aren’t met.

Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerBill Clinton jokes no one would skip Dingell's funeral: 'Only time' we could get the last word Left flexes muscle in immigration talks Former Ryan aide moves to K street MORE (R-Ohio), who has previously voted for a biennial budget bill, has emphasized the need for structural spending reforms when discussing the debt-limit talks. He has declined, however, to go into specifics.

Pressed on the issue last week, BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerBill Clinton jokes no one would skip Dingell's funeral: 'Only time' we could get the last word Left flexes muscle in immigration talks Former Ryan aide moves to K street MORE said, “I think there needs to be real review of the entire budget process, and I’ll probably have more to say on that later.”

During a high-profile speech last month in New York, Boehner said it would be “irresponsible” to raise the debt ceiling without simultaneously taking dramatic steps to reduce spending and reform the budget process.”

For years, House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif.) has been seeking to pass legislation calling for biennial budgets. 

He told The Hill late last week that he has urged “elected leadership officials” to push the matter in debt-ceiling discussions. Dreier said the legislation he and others are touting is “the most bipartisan budget reform” plan in Congress.

Dreier’s bill has 38 co-sponsors, including Reps. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), Ron KindRonald (Ron) James KindSteel lobby's PR blitz can't paper over damaging effects of tariffs Congress should stop tariff power grab, bring balance to US trade policy Ocasio-Cortez sparks debate with talk of 70 percent marginal rate MORE (D-Wis.), Ted PoeLloyd (Ted) Theodore PoeTexas New Members 2019 Cook shifts two House GOP seats closer to Dem column Five races to watch in the Texas runoffs MORE (R-Texas) and Allen West (R-Fla.).

The Senate companion measure, crafted by Sen. Johnny IsaksonJohn (Johnny) Hardy IsaksonOn The Money: Lawmakers wait for Trump verdict on border deal | Trump touts deal as offering B for security | McConnell presses Trump to sign off | National debt tops T | Watchdog details IRS shutdown woes Trump criticizes border wall deal: 'Can't say I'm happy' GOP senators offer praise for Klobuchar: 'She’s the whole package' MORE (R-Ga.), has 30 co-sponsors, including Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderCongress must move forward on measure dealing with fentanyl GOP advances rules change to speed up confirmation of Trump nominees Key doctors group faces political risks on guns MORE (R-Tenn.), Tom HarkinThomas (Tom) Richard HarkinIowa’s Ernst will run for reelection in 2020 California primary threatens to change 2020 game for Dems Mellman: Dems’ presidential pick will be chosen in a flash MORE (D-Iowa), Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinSenate confirms Trump pick William Barr as new attorney general GOP wants to pit Ocasio-Cortez against Democrats in the Senate Senate poised to confirm Trump’s attorney general pick MORE (D-W.Va.), Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenDems slam EPA plan for fighting drinking water contaminants Bipartisan Senators reintroduce legislation to slap new sanctions on Russia Dems seeking path to Senate majority zero-in on Sun Belt MORE (D-N.H.) and John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneWill Trump sign the border deal? Here's what we know Key GOP senator pitches Trump: Funding deal a 'down payment' on wall Hillicon Valley: House panel takes on election security | DOJ watchdog eyes employee texts | Senate Dems urge regulators to block T-Mobile, Sprint deal | 'Romance scams' cost victims 3M in 2018 MORE (R-S.D.).

If Boehner calls for President Obama to back this budget reform, it would be seen as another attempt to limit the power of appropriators. Boehner has long battled appropriators over earmarks, triumphing in that battle by passing a ban on lawmaker pet projects that is in effect for the entire 112th Congress.

Dreier acknowledged that some appropriators, most notably Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) and Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), are not fans of his bill. However, former Appropriations Committee Chairman Bill Young (R-Fla.) is a co-sponsor, Dreier noted. 

As The Hill first reported last month, House Republicans have abandoned a campaign proposal by Boehner to draft spending bills by agency instead of lumping Cabinet departments together in bulky appropriations measures.

While that proposal was deemed unworkable, biennial budgeting would fit well into the GOP’s budget-cutting message. 

Backers of the bill say it would allow Congress to spend every other year focusing on oversight. They contend lawmakers are consistently playing catch-up on spending bills, leading to large omnibus measures at the end of the year, which become unmanageable. 

Many appropriators remain firmly against the idea, which would cut their workload — and authority.

“All the strides the new Republican majority has made toward greater fiscal responsibility would be thrown out the window with biennial budgeting,” an Appropriations panel aide said Monday. “Not only would the practice undermine the flexibility and responsibility of Congress to adequately and carefully fund the entire federal government in a timely manner, but it would also give bureaucratic federal agencies a dangerously long leash with which to operate.”

The staffer added, “It is clear that the default position of this administration is to ‘spend more,’ so why would Congress give them more opportunity and money to do so — especially in a time of fiscal crisis?” 

This year the House Appropriations Committee has unveiled a plan to have all 12 of the appropriations bills though the committee by August recess, with nine of them approved by the full House by that time. 

Bob Bixby, the executive director of the Concord Coalition, favors biennial budgeting because it could increase oversight into overlooked federal operations, allowing Congress to better ferret out waste.

However, he said a counterargument could be made that more spending would end up packaged into supplemental appropriations bills in the off years, and these bills often receive little scrutiny.

Leadership aides did not respond to requests for comment, and budget experts said that more focus has been on budget caps than on the Dreier proposal. 

Still, budget experts claim that there is more momentum this year for the idea than ever before. 

“The system is so totally broken. There is no budget process right now,” Bixby said. 

Maya MacGuineas of the New America Foundation said she has long been in favor of biennial budgeting. MacGuineas has worked closely with the Gang of Six — now Gang of Five — senators looking for a comprehensive deficit solution.

“There is more momentum for biennial budgeting than I have seen in the recent past, which is good, but still, process changes like this will never fix our fiscal problem, and we should be focusing our energy first and foremost on putting in place a large, multiyear deficit-reduction plan,” she said. 

Meanwhile, Dreier indicated he is still working on rallying support for his bill, telling The Hill with a smile, “Keep asking about this.”