We don’t need to ground our kids! The REAL problem is that they won’t behave.
That is the takeaway from Democratic Budget Reform Committee Co-Chair Nita Lowey, who led the Democratic blockade against any proposals that would place consequences on members of Congress when the body does not complete its job on time.
In a brutally disappointing day for anyone who cares about fixing the irreparably broken Congressional Budget process – and a still-painful day for the rest of Americans who have to live with the dysfunction in Washington – the Joint Select Committee on Budget and Appropriations Reform managed to complete its 9-month assignment without passing a single substantive change to the process.
The federal government is a $4.5 trillion enterprise. Only $1.3 trillion of the spending is controlled by Congress each year and almost a $1 trillion of it is financed by borrowing. In the last 40 years, Congress has only successfully completed each step of the budgeting and funding process on time four times, the last time being over two decades ago. Congress regularly reverts to either funding the government via temporary and inefficient Continuing Resolutions that tie the hands of federal agencies or 2000-page behemoth omnibuses that are written behind closed doors and dropped hours before a shutdown deadline.
When the 16-member, bicameral, bipartisan Committee was formed last spring with the sole purpose of fixing this mess, there was real hope for our fiscal future and responsible governance. Instead, the committee wound up being a reflection of all the problems that are rampant in the current budget process.
After the first portion of the markup two weeks ago, the Joint Select committee showered glowing praise and bipartisan backslapping in their speeches while partisaning their way to a stalemate that yielded no reforms.
Yesterday’s edition of the markup did not get any better. A proposal was blocked to phase out the use of billions of dollars in Changes in Mandatory Spending (CHIMPs), a budget gimmick that creates fake offsets to allow Congress to spend more. Rep. Arrington referred CHIMPs to an Enron-like scam that would land private sector businessmen in jail right before the change was rejected because the gimmick, while admittedly fraudulent, keeps spending levels higher.
The markup featured multiple proposals from Sens. Perdue (R-GA), Ernst (R-IA), and Lankford (R-OK) that would purposefully schedule out each phase of the budget and funding process and put in place consequences if Congress’ work is not complete by certain milestones. The punishment is that Congress must stay in DC to complete its work rather than going home (keep in mind that the House was only in for 145 out of 261 work days last year). All of the No Budget, No Vacation iterations were voted down on nearly party-line votes (Rep. Kilmer (D-WA) voted in favor). As did a proposal that would switch the fiscal year schedule to the Calendar year (currently fiscal years begin on October 1st).
The opposition was led by the Democratic Co-Chair and soon-to-be House Appropriations Chairman Nita Lowey. She put the blame for the broken budget process on authorizers not completing their work on time and members attempting to place politically-charged policy riders in appropriations bills – mucking up the process. She contends the problem is not with the process – it’s with the people. Her solution is that Congress does not need a different process or any incentives, they just need to have more political will to work together and more time to complete their work. Every Democrat on the committee with the exception of Rep. Kilmer (D-WA) agreed with her and tanked all of the proposals.
Lowey is basically saying that the reason that Congress is misbehaving is because they are doing bad stuff. They don’t need punishment, they just need to stop doing bad things. If the political will has not been summoned in over two decades, it’s hard to believe that it will magically appear now. That’s exactly why there needs to be incentives baked into the process to expedite the political maneuvering and resolve these thorny issues in a timely basis without the need for inefficient CR’s and disruptive shutdowns.
In an ending that would be funny if there was not so much on the line, the joint committee postponed the final vote on their milquetoast reform package to allow time to seek the support of Majority Leader McConnell and Minority Leader Schumer. Political will could not be summoned to vote out their own proposal without permission from leadership. Yet Co-Chairman Lowey thinks that political will can be found to fix our budget without process reforms. Sadly, that will not come to fruition. And instead of the consequences falling on Congress, it will continue to fall on the American people.