Terminating Budget Committees not as absurd as it sounds

Terminating Budget Committees not as absurd as it sounds
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Fresh off of passing the largest spending package since the 2009 stimulus, congressional leaders are plowing ahead with budget process reform. More accurately, they’re suggesting various ideas for achieving the type of spending cuts they all say they support but have yet to accomplish.

The latest idea comes from Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike EnziMichael (Mike) Bradley EnziAmerica needs more accountants in Congress GOP nerves on edge after Sinema takes lead over McSally Jockeying already stepping up in House leadership fights MORE (R-Wyo.), who has suggested getting rid of the Budget Committees altogether, a thought he floated before in 2016. The proposal is not as radical as it might sound.

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After all, the Budget Committees didn’t even try to pass a budget blueprint by the April 15 deadline, as rising deficits and debt would have made passing any budget seemingly impossible.

 

Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) concurred with Enzi’s reasoning, although all parties were cautious to emphasize that changes would come as part of a larger package that could include biennial budgeting, taking certain mandatory programs off autopilot or reducing the number of appropriations committees.

But what do the Budget Committees do anyway? A closer look leaves me, at least, feeling like I’m watching that famous scene in "Office Space": “What would you say...you do here?” Even in the most ideal sense, the committees’ power is limited.

They hold hearings on the president’s budget request and draft the annual congressional budget, a nonbinding resolution that is supposed to guide the 12 appropriations committees and set topline funding levels.

In reality, Congress is lucky to pass any sort of budget these days, and the odds of the budget framework being followed by 12 appropriations bills passed and signed into law? Well, that hasn’t happened since the early 1990s.

It isn’t hard to see why the idea of scrapping the Budget Committees altogether has appeal, even if it comes with a few thorny practical issues, such as who will enforce PAYGO — a budget rule requiring that new legislation affecting entitlement programs' revenues and spending doesn't increase projected budget deficits — (or, more accurately, endlessly waive it).

Congressional reformers should beware of one-off changes that give up certain power — however symbolic — without replacing it with more binding controls on spending and debt growth.

A toothless budget is still better than none at all, and perhaps a struggling committee is worse than acquiescing these decisions to executive or administrative power.

Much like the debt limit, which mostly fails to limit debt, but at least forces a conversation and results in some reforms such as the 2011’s Budget Control Act, there is value in planning and laying out a broader agenda when it comes to government spending — instead of letting these decisions play out in an ad-hoc fashion.

There’s no question that the budget process is, as outgoing Speaker of the House Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanThe Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump says he 'never directed' Cohen to break the law | GOP reels from Trump shutdown threat | Alleged spy Butina pleads guilty to conspiracy charge The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act kneecaps American factory workers The Hill's Morning Report — Where the shutdown fight stands MORE (R-Wis.) has said, “irrevocably broken.” But in moving forward with desperately needed reforms, congressional leaders must ensure that progress is made toward limiting spending growth, not making it easier.

Jonathan Bydlak is the founder and president of the Coalition to Reduce Spending, which advocates for lower federal spending, and the creator of SpendingTracker.org.