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Senate Budget Chair Unveils Plan to Overhaul Congress’s Broken Budget Process

Yuval Rosenberg

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi (R-WY), who is retiring after his term ends in 2020, this week unveiled a set of proposals to reform the congressional budget process — among them, remaking the committee he now leads into a Fiscal Control Committee that would include the heads of the appropriations and finance committees as nonvoting members if they are not already voting members.

“We can all agree that the current budget and spending system has broken down,” Enzi said. “I am hopeful that through this process, we will be able to reach bipartisan agreement to end the current dysfunction and put our country back toward a more sustainable fiscal future — and on time, so we don’t have government shutdowns.”

The draft proposals, which Enzi said reflect suggestions from both Republicans and Democrats as well as outside groups spanning the political spectrum, reportedly include:

  • Moving to a two-year budget and appropriations cycle as part of a re-orientation of the process around long-term planning.
  • Adjusting the Congressional Budget Office’s schedule for producing baseline projections, and requiring the agency to publicly release its cost estimates for appropriations bills.
  • Establishing a debt-to-GDP target as part of the budget resolution, with adjustments made as necessary in the second year of the cycle to reduce the deficit.
  • Raising the debt limit automatically as part of the budget resolution.

Is there any appetite for budget reform? Lawmakers and outside watchdog groups generally agree that the congressional budget process is in dire need of repair. But as The Hill’s Niv Ellis notes, bipartisan joint select committee established to reform the budget and appropriations process last year failed to agree on a set of recommendations after months of work. 

The bottom line: There isn’t all that much reason to think another attempt would yield different results, though Paul M. Krawzak of Congressional Quarterly suggests some reason for optimism: With deficits projected to top $1 trillion as soon as this year and spending caps established under 2011 law set to expire, he writes, “Congress could be more open than usual to ways to revamp the budget process.”

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