Press Release
Wednesday, March 15, 2000
WASHINGTON -- Robert Bixby, Executive Director of The Concord Coalition, testified before the House Rules Committee today at a hearing on “Biennial Budgeting:  A Tool for Improving Government Fiscal Management and Oversight.”  His testimony highlighted reasons why The Concord Coalition is in favor of establishing a two-year budget and appropriations process.  Excerpts from his testimony follow:


         “… it should be readily apparent why The Concord Coalition is interested in establishing tight fiscal discipline procedures and observing them scrupulously. While no amount of process reform can substitute for the hard policy choices you face as the demographic tidal wave approaches, The Concord Coalition believes that moving the budget to a biennial cycle would help shift the emphasis from the immediate, and often repetitious, year-to-year battles over budget resolutions and appropriations bills to the broader questions of strategic planning, oversight, and reform.


            “Indeed, from Concord's perspective, one of the most attractive features of biennial budgeting is that it would lessen the opportunities for fiscal irresponsibility.  Some traditional opponents of biennial budgeting have contended that by moving from an annual to a biennial process, policy makers would relinquish half their opportunities to enact reconciliation bills and reduce the deficit.  Now that we appear to be entering a period of budget surpluses, the reverse argument can be made in support of biennial budgeting: with a two-year process, policy makers will have only half as many opportunities to reduce the surplus.  That's desirable.


            “It is also important to note that the potential benefits of biennial budgeting are not limited to congressional oversight.  A two-year cycle would improve the efficiency and efficacy of both the executive and legislative branches. Too much time is consumed needlessly in repetitious budget preparation, justification, and appropriation. This energy could be more usefully put to work on improving government performance.


            “A key element of any transition to biennial budgeting would, therefore, be establishing a way to ensure, or at least protect, against the danger of  ‘death-by-supplementals.'  It should be made clear that the method of adjusting second-year spending levels would be through one mid-session correction bill, rather than through an ad hoc series of smaller, less scrutinized bills.  Bipartisan cooperation at the leadership level (including the Administration) would be required to keep the supplemental process from deteriorating. While there is always a danger that second year supplementals would get out of hand in a biennial cycle, this need not happen if:  realistic discretionary spending assumptions are used in the Congressional budget resolution, rosy economic assumptions are avoided, and a regular mechanism is put in place to consider the second session update.  These elements would help prevent an avalanche of supplementals, something Concord believes should clearly be avoided.


            In conclusion, “… it is clear that no amount of process reform will cure all of the perceived problems with the current system.  But the fact that perfection will not be achieved should not deter you from trying to reform the system in a positive way that is responsive to the challenges ahead, and that addresses the frustrations so many of you have expressed with the current system.”