Congressional panel scales back bipartisan budget reform proposal

Congressional panel scales back bipartisan budget reform proposal
© iStock
A major overhaul of the federal budgeting process appears to be off the table, as a special committee on reform prepares to instead advance a scaled-back version of the proposal.
 
The only significant recommendation expected to move forward is a shift from annual budgeting to a biennial budgeting calendar.
 
“The recommendations are narrow,” said an aide familiar with the process, who cautioned that changes were still possible, but unlikely.
 
ADVERTISEMENT
Relegated to the sidelines were suggestions of aligning the fiscal year with the calendar year, restoring “pay-as-you-go” rules, enacting transparency requirements in the appropriations process and creating new rules for the debt ceiling.
 
The slimmed-down proposal would also omit a suggestion that Congress consider only half of the 12 appropriations bills each year for two-year periods, a plan that outgoing Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanHouse vote fails to quell storm surrounding Steve King House passes resolution condemning white nationalism Anti-Defamation League calls on House leaders to censure Steve King over white supremacy comments MORE (R-Wis.) supported.
 
Members of the committee said that while the bipartisan process was encouraging, the results left something to be desired.
 
"I am under no illusion this technical change will solve long-term fiscal problems," said Rep. John YarmuthJohn Allen YarmuthOcasio-Cortez sparks debate with talk of 70 percent marginal rate Dems look to chip away at Trump tax reform law Overnight Health Care: Dem chair seeks CBO report on single-payer | Democrats demand answers on Trump short-term insurance plans | Drugmaker Eli Lilly to publish drug list prices MORE (D-Ky.), the ranking member of the House Budget Committee who is expected to take the gavel in the next Congress. “Addressing them will require members to compromise across the aisle and across chambers."
 
The Joint Select Committee on Budget and Appropriations was formed as part of February's budget cap deal, which raised discretionary spending caps for 2018 and 2019. It called for five public hearings and legislative text by Nov. 30.
 
Its formation stemmed from a broad recognition that the budgeting process in Congress, established in 1974, is broken. This year, the two chambers managed to send only five of the 12 spending bills to the president’s desk for his signature before Oct. 1, the first day of the fiscal year.
 
And that was a vast improvement over recent years. The rest of the government was kept open through a continuing resolution, a stop-gap measure that keeps existing funding levels in place. That spending authority expires on Dec. 7.
 
“Instead of doing our work, Congress has become reliant on continuing resolutions; between 1977 and 2017, we enacted 176,” committee co-chair Steve WomackStephen (Steve) Allen WomackPelosi to make history with second Speakership GOP rep says Dems want to hand Trump a government shutdown House budget chairman says government shutdown remains up in the air MORE (R-Ark.) wrote in The Hill last week. “Over the same period, we shut down the government 19 times. This, simply put, is an unacceptable record.”
 
At the same time, budget deficits have continued to deepen, a problem that Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseAG pick Barr emphasizes independence from Trump Live coverage: Trump AG pick grilled on Mueller probe at confirmation hearing Democrat previews Mueller questions for Trump’s AG nominee MORE (D-R.I) earlier this year attributed to a process that divorced decision-making on spending and revenues.
 
The special committee’s other co-chair, Rep. Nita LoweyNita Sue LoweyOn The Money: Shutdown Day 25 | Dems reject White House invite for talks | Leaders nix recess with no deal | McConnell blocks second House Dem funding bill | IRS workers called back for tax-filing season | Senate bucks Trump on Russia sanctions Latest funding bill to reopen the government fails in House Democrats vow to lift ban on federal funds for abortions MORE (D-N.Y.), has said the process can work if the lawmakers choose to cooperate rather than bog down the spending process with political battles. She pointed to the Senate, where an agreement to keep “poison pill” policy riders out of the process helped push the process ahead this year.
 
“Flawed rules and procedures aren’t the root cause of much of what people complain about in budgeting,” Lowey said in one of the committee’s public hearing in June. “Rather, the root cause often lies in deep divisions over policy, combined with misplaced priorities, partisanship and polarization. 
 
But disagreements between co-chairs Womack and Lowey have left only the two-year proposal and technical changes in the legislation, expected to be released Wednesday ahead of a likely markup on Thursday.
 
While members could still offer amendments, they will likely require a bipartisan majority to pass.
 
The legislation that formed the committee required a Senate floor vote, but no instructions for the House, so it is unclear if even the narrow reform package will move forward.
 
Congress is expected to have its hands full in the lame-duck session, seeking to find agreement on a farm bill and avert a shutdown for the unfunded portions of the government. President TrumpDonald John TrumpVeterans groups demand end to shutdown: 'Get your act together' Brown launches tour in four early nominating states amid 2020 consideration Pence on border wall: Trump won't be ‘deterred’ by Dem ‘obstruction’ MORE has threatened a partial government shutdown if Congress does not approve funding for his proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.