July 31, 2014

Senate Committee Considers Budget Process Reforms

  • The national debt has grown significantly in recent years due to rising annual deficits. A deficit occurs in any year the government spends more...

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and Ranking Member Jeff Sessions (R-Al.) both have expressed support for biennial budgeting -- a proposal to convert the budget process to a two-year cycle. The comments were made at a hearing last week on budget process reform.

At the hearing, Maya MacGuineas of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, Don Kettle of the University of Maryland School of Public Policy, and David Kendall of Third Way generally agreed that biennial budgeting could have positive effects such as providing Congress with time for more effective oversight. They cautioned that it is not a solution in itself and should be accompanied by additional reforms.

With potential benefits such as increased oversight, a more orderly budget process, and fewer opportunities for fiscal irresponsibility, biennial budgeting should be considered by Congress. In an op-ed published in The Hill last year, Cliff Isenberg, The Concord Coalition’s chief budget counsel, argued that biennial budgeting would be most effective if it is included as part of a broader proposal involving other budget process, spending and revenue reforms.

In a second panel, former Senate staff testified on improvements that could be made to Senate procedures for considering amendments to the budget resolution. The current process -- often referred to as the “vote-a-rama” -- has been criticized for requiring votes on hundreds of amendments with little time for substantive debate.  Reforms discussed would limit the number and scope of amendments while allowing more time for debate.

The committee has scheduled a second budget process hearing for this week. Also this week, congressional committees have until Friday to submit recommendations to the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction.