Press Release
Tuesday, May 11, 1999

WASHINGTON -- Martha Phillips, former Executive Director and now a member of the Board of Directors of The Concord Coalition, testified before the House Rules Committee today in support of H.R. 853, the Comprehensive Budget Process Reform Act of 1999, a bipartisan bill to strengthen the budget process. The following are excerpts from her testimony: 

"This bill focuses on the places where budget enforcement recently has broken down most flagrantly – emergency spending, end-game tactics, scoring of federal insurance programs, creation of new entitlements, and lack of enforcement of the existing budget discipline rules.

Lately, the closing days of the session have deteriorated into a very costly and unstatesmanlike cross between a food fight and a game of budgetary chicken in which the aim of each side seems to be to inflict maximum political embarrassment on the other while getting as much as possible for one's own spending or tax priorities.

The proposed reforms close existing loopholes and propose a number of useful changes aswe shift from the politics of deficit to the politics of surplus. Now that the budget process no longer focuses on reducing or eliminating gaping, economically damaging deficits, the central problem has become maintaining sufficient budget discipline to prevent off-budget Social Security surpluses from being diverted to other purposes in the name of ‘emergencies' or just plain old-fashioned ‘pork'.

This bill proposes changing the budget resolution from a concurrent resolution that binds only Congress but not the Administration to a joint resolution that requires the President's signature.… (It also) offers a powerful provision for eliminating end-game shenanigans: an automatic continuing resolution.

Abuse of emergency spending procedures has become the most egregious and flagrant disregard of the spirit of the budget process. This loophole has become large enough to accommodate not only a Mack truck or a Sherman tank but even an entire bachelor enlisted housing complex at a base in Bahrain.

H.R. 853 would set up an advance reserve (in an amount equal to the average emergency expenditure over the previous five years) in the budget resolution of funds specifically designated for emergency spending," Phillips said.