October 25, 2014

Concord Executive Director Testifies in Favor of Biennial Budgeting

  • The federal budget process is a mixture of rules, timelines and norms that work together to influence policy decisions. It shapes how the...

Concord Coalition Executive Director Robert L. Bixby told a House subcommittee last week that switching to a two-year budget cycle would make time for better congressional oversight, improve long-term planning and help lawmakers focus on broad fiscal reforms.

The testimony came during a hearing by the Rules Subcommittee on Legislative and Budget Process on H.R.1869, the Biennial Budgeting and Enhanced Oversight Act of 2014, introduced by Rep. Reid Ribble (R-Wisc.). The hearing was chaired by Rep. Rob Woodall (R-Ga). Bixby was joined on a panel by Maya MacGuineas from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget and Scott Lilly from the Center for American Progress. 

Congress currently budgets and approves appropriations on an annual basis. Under a two-year system, Congress would use the first year to pass a budget resolution and appropriations. The second year would be devoted primarily to oversight and planning. Bixby said some of this time could be used to address growing mandatory programs that currently receive little review.

In the second year, he noted, lawmakers would still be able to pass supplemental spending bills to address emergencies and other unexpected developments.

Bixby said a strong argument in favor of biennial budgeting is that many lawmakers have come to believe that the “repetitive annual battles over the budget make it impossible to engage in any meaningful oversight or systemic reform.”

He added: “It would be far better to use this time and energy exploring new ways to make government work better than repetitively renewing or disputing budgetary decisions that often have been made ‘final’ only a few months earlier.”

Since the budget process was adopted in 1974, he said, Congress has been less than half as likely to pass appropriations bills on time in the second year of its term. He said the budget process now “exists in name only” and requires serious reform.

“Budget process reform is not a panacea for the monumental fiscal challenges we face as a nation, nor is it a substitute for making real choices on taxes and spending,” Bixby said. “But returning to a regular budget process that refocuses our attention on long-term planning would help facilitate a discussion about how best to address these challenges.”