November 27, 2014

Examining Benefits of a Two-Year Budget Cycle

  • The federal budget process is a mixture of rules, timelines and norms that work together to influence policy decisions. It shapes how the...

Concord Coalition Executive Director Robert L. Bixby told a House panel last week that switching to a two-year budget cycle would make time for better congressional oversight, improve long-term planning and help lawmakers focus on badly needed fiscal reforms.

He and other experts testified in a hearing by a Rules subcommittee on the Biennial Budgeting and Enhanced Oversight Act of 2014, introduced by Rep. Reid Ribble (R-Wisc.).

Congress currently uses an annual budget cycle. Under a two-year system, lawmakers would use the first year to pass a budget resolution and appropriations legislation for the next two years. In the second year, they would concentrate on oversight and planning.

Some of this time could be used to deal with mandatory programs that currently receive little review. Bixby noted that lawmakers could still pass supplemental spending bills for unexpected developments in the second year of the cycle.

Many lawmakers, he said, think that “repetitive annual battles over the budget make it impossible to engage in any meaningful oversight or systemic reform.” The budget process now “exists in name only,” he said.

“Budget process reform is not a panacea for the monumental fiscal challenges we face as a nation, nor is it a substitute for making real choices on taxes and spending,” Bixby cautioned. “But returning to a regular budget process that refocuses our attention on long-term planning would help facilitate a discussion about how best to address these challenges.”