November 21, 2014

House Budget Panel Approves Switch to Biennial Budgeting

The House Budget Committee last week approved a bill on a bipartisan 22-10 vote that would switch the annual congressional budget process to a biennial (two-year) cycle.

The legislation, introduced by Rep. Reid Ribble (R-Wisc.), a committee member, has attracted 100 co-sponsors, roughly a third of whom are Democrats. The Concord Coalition has commended Rep. Ribble for pursuing this option.

The difficult struggle each year to pass appropriation bills has made it harder for lawmakers and federal agencies to focus on structural problems in the budget and develop more responsible long-term fiscal policies.

Ideally, biennial budgeting would help Congress improve its allocation and oversight of discretionary spending, which makes up one-third of the budget.

During the first year of a 2-year cycle, lawmakers would set funding levels for federal agencies. Congress would then use the second year to concentrate on oversight, examining how federal agencies administer various programs, how effective the programs are and whether other options might better address changing federal needs.

Under the recent Ryan-Murray budget agreement, Congress is in effect using a biennial budget cycle. Late last year it set top-line spending numbers for both Fiscal 2014 and 2015; with the recent approval of spending plans for this year, appropriators now have opportunity to move forward quickly on 2015 legislation.

Biennial budgeting, if successful, could improve public confidence in Congress’s ability to manage taxpayer dollars. This, in turn, would help decrease public skepticism about the need for broad reforms to resolve the nation’s long-term fiscal and economic challenges.

While process reform is no substitute for a long-term fiscal sustainability plan, biennial budgeting would be an important step in the right direction.