Budget

Feds might appreciate an easier budget process, but they're not going to get it

Emoji shrug

In an age of continuing resolutions and last-minute budget deals, the Senate Budget Committee is "a nothing" pre-empted by appropriators, said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).

Whitehouse, Committee Chairman Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) and the rest of the committee stressed their desire to tackle and reform the bogged-down process during an April 20 hearing seeking solutions to the current morass.

Representatives from the University of Maryland's School of Public Policy and the American Enterprise Institute offered few solutions.

What about withholding pay from lawmakers if they fail to pass a budget on time?

That's "the stupidest thing I ever heard," said Norman Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. He added that such a scheme would give unfair leverage to the wealthiest lawmakers, who could afford to wait out their colleagues. (Though even the poorest members of Congress tend to be better off than the average American.)

Budgeting and appropriating on two-year cycles got more approval from the experts, though Ornstein pointed out that such a system would falter because lawmakers would still feel the need to parcel out federal dollars every year.

As long as the system continues the way it's been going, the spending mess that has vexed Federal CIO Tony Scott seems bound to continue.

"It's like putting bags over their heads and handcuffs behind their backs," Ornstein said of agency leaders who are forced to guess at future spending levels. "We have a catastrophe right now."

University of Maryland Professor Philip Joyce said hiring freezes and furloughs have sapped federal employees' morale, and spending restrictions that seek to curb government waste have perversely generated more waste because they "compromise [agencies'] effectiveness and lead to higher future costs."

"We simply cannot continue on this course," Enzi said, and he predicted drastic spending cuts, massive tax hikes or both. "Somebody is going to pay the price."

About the Author

Zach Noble is a former FCW staff writer.

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