May 26, 2017

Posts on budget process

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Tuesday, May 9, 2017 - 10:10 AM

Amid all the debate in Washington on health care, taxes and other things, the congressional budget process for the coming year is already behind schedule and seems to have almost been forgotten.

Congress has yet to even consider a Fiscal 2018 budget resolution, despite a statutory deadline of April 15 for having one in place. The congressional budget committees are still reportedly weeks away from even getting down to business on preparation of a resolution.

For its part, the Trump administration released only a partial spending plan in mid-March that lacked overall fiscal targets, and is promising a more complete plan later. The president has also suggested deep tax cuts but released only a vague outline of what he has in mind.

Congressional leaders say they want to get back to “regular order” in the appropriations process, a laudable goal. They voiced similar hopes last year, but the process broke down again, as it has so many times in the past.

As a result, lawmakers did not pass most of the necessary spending legislation for the...

Monday, April 3, 2017 - 11:17 PM

Many Americans are no doubt struggling to understand some of the latest news from Washington about the federal budget. That’s because elected officials in Washington are approaching their work on the Fiscal 2018 budget with some long-unfinished business: They have yet to agree on most of their spending plans for the current fiscal year.

That year is now more than half over. Congress has approved only one of the 12 regular appropriations bills that were supposed to have passed before Fiscal 2017 began Oct. 1. This is a poor omen for the 2018 budget work that is supposed to be completed in the coming months. It also raises the possibility of a costly government shutdown later this month.

Instead of getting more 2017 spending bills passed, Congress has been relying on stop-gap measures known as “continuing resolutions” that generally continue funding for federal programs at current levels -- regardless of changing needs, new priorities and the government’s growing debt.

In addition, the failure of Congress to make timely final budget decisions makes it difficult for federal agencies and departments to plan effectively, anticipate appropriate staffing levels and commit to important projects and...

Tuesday, December 13, 2016 - 12:41 PM

Once again, federal lawmakers have turned to a familiar tactic to keep the government operating and delay significant decisions to a later date: the Continuing Resolution (CR), a stopgap measure that generally extends federal funding at current levels.

The House and Senate left town last week after passing a CR to keep the government operating through next April, when the new fiscal year will be more than half finished. Many experts warn that CRs are irresponsible, short-sighted measures that merely punt serious fiscal decisions to a later date.

CRs continue current funding levels regardless of priorities and create uncertainty about the rest of the fiscal year, which makes planning more difficult for federal agencies. CRs also occupy ample amounts of time on the legislative calendar that would be better spent addressing the long-term fiscal challenges facing the nation: rising health care costs, an aging population and an inefficient tax code.

A CR only delays the day of fiscal reckoning, which is perhaps why they’ve been so popular over the years; Congress hasn’t been able to operate the federal government without some form of a CR since 1996.

Lawmakers in both parties should avoid this form of budgeting-by-crisis and develop a more sensible...

Monday, April 25, 2016 - 11:47 AM

A pair of Republicans on the House Rules Committee recently discussed proposals to alter the rules for the consideration of spending bills. The effort drew attention – and opposition – from Rules Committee Democrats and Appropriations Committee Republicans alike.

The controversy centered on a proposal that would have enabled the House to reduce expenditures on mandatory spending programs, the largest of which are Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, during the appropriations process.

While it would be a good idea to provide more opportunities for review of mandatory spending programs, the already troubled appropriations process is not the right vehicle.

 As our chart shows, mandatory spending -- which is set by formula and does not require approval through the annual appropriations process -- has ballooned in the past several decades and is projected to continue growing faster than the economy. Many fiscal analysts...

Monday, April 4, 2016 - 12:41 PM

As Congress slides into April without any serious progress on a budget resolution in the House, some pragmatic lawmakers are reportedly considering the use of a novel approach to break the gridlock: a “Queen of the Hill” legislative rule.

The rule operates on a simple, common-sense principle: Every lawmaker has an opportunity to put his or her preferred solution on the table, and if no preferred solution receives a majority of votes, a default option is “deemed,” or considered passed by the House. This approach should be taken seriously and the lawmakers proposing it should be praised for their efforts.

At issue in the impasse over the budget resolution is the $1.07 trillion total for Fiscal Year 2017 appropriations agreed to by lawmakers in the Fall. Some argue that the figure is too high; if the budget were accompanied by reforms to mandatory spending to put long-term deficits on a downward trajectory, they say, the agreement reached might be more acceptable. Laudable as this goal may seem, it has had the adverse effect of blockading the budget process.

It is against this backdrop that Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Penn.) has raised the possibility of a “Queen of the Hill” rule to inject some needed creativity into a broken process. Dent, according to a report in the National...

Monday, January 12, 2015 - 10:27 PM

A looming crisis is facing Social Security’s Disability Insurance (DI) program: Unless Congress takes action, the DI trust fund will run out next year and beneficiaries will suffer an across-the-board cut of 19 percent.

Some advocates suggest that a “simple fix” would be for Congress to shore up the DI trust fund by reallocating a portion of Social Security’s payroll tax revenue from the Old Age and Survivors Insurance program (OASI). But this approach would ignore the fact that OASI has growing problems of its own. 

Last week, as part of a rules package marking the start of a new Congress, House Republicans included a rule that would prohibit reallocating payroll taxes from OASI to DI unless steps are also taken to strengthen both funds.

While House rules are easily waived, this one points policymakers in the right direction. Social Security as a whole is on an unsustainable course, with its larger piece, OASI, running a cash deficit that is projected to grow larger and larger as the population ages and workforce growth slows. 

Disability Insurance is depended on, primarily by workers over age 50 because they are more vulnerable to medical conditions that impede work. This demographic continues to grow with the aging of the baby boomers and now consists of almost three in four DI...

Monday, April 21, 2014 - 11:17 AM

All dressed up and nowhere to go.

That’s the sad situation with the federal budget process.

We now have 10-year budget proposals from President Obama and the House of Representatives. They are quite different and would be very difficult to bring together in the best of circumstances. That doesn’t really matter, however, because there is nothing in the process to force a negotiation.

The President’s budget is merely advisory, although it has value in providing the administration’s vision of fiscal policy over the next 10 years.

The House budget is only one essential element in producing a concurrent congressional budget resolution. The other essential element is a budget from the Senate. And that is where the process ends this year because the Senate has decided not to write its own budget.

Some may consider this a politically smart move on the part of Senate Democrats because it allows them to take shots at the House Republicans’ budget, distance themselves from unpopular aspects of the President’s budget and avoid taking a stand on anything that might prove inconvenient in this fall’s elections.

Others may say that having a budget...

Tuesday, March 25, 2014 - 9:49 AM

Last Thursday, Congressman Reid Ribble invited The Concord Coalition to host a panel of experts on Capitol Hill to talk with congressional staffers gearing up for the annual budget process. Despite the ideological differences on the panel, there was a strong consensus that the process is broken and on ways in which it could be improved.

Gridlock has repeatedly brought our nation to the brink of crisis in the past few years. In October, Congress even temporarily shut down the government and brought the country within days of defaulting on at least some of its financial obligations. According to the GAO, a previous standoff over the debt ceiling cost the Treasury $1.3 billion in FY 2011 alone.

“The political process is the problem,” said Ed Lorenzen, a former aide to Democratic leader Rep. Steny Hoyer and now a senior advisor at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. Lorenzen added that lawmakers “are not willing to make tough choices” that are necessary to resolve the country's long-term fiscal challenges.

Gordon Gray, director of fiscal policy at the American Action Forum and a former aide to Republican Sen. Rob Portman, agreed. He said that while some of the talk about the broken process is an attempt by politicians to absolve themselves of...

Friday, February 14, 2014 - 11:46 AM

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...

Tuesday, July 9, 2013 - 5:39 PM

The Obama Administration released its Mid-Session Review (MSR) of the budget on Monday. It would be nice to say that this update arrived just in time to clinch the deal on a fiscal sustainability plan, or even a plan to get through the rest of the year, but sadly that is not the case.

There are no apparent negotiations going on between the House and Senate to work out their differences over next year's spending levels, let alone any broader deal involving the President. Certain mechanical functions are grinding forward, such as the release of the MSR and approval of a few appropriations bills, but these are disjointed efforts with no attempt at coordination.

We no longer have "regular order" so much as we have regular chaos. A tacit decision seems to have been made to take no action on the budget until a crisis is at hand, which is not likely to occur until the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.  And even then, the "fix" might be to simply push things forward just enough to reach the next crisis point – raising the debt ceiling - later in the fall.

Within that context, the MSR means little. Still, it is useful to have the administration reiterate its most recent proposals with updated numbers.

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