Congressional budget process
I've come back from two weeks on the mountaintop (and a few beaches) with an additional healthy dose of skepticism -- and that's saying a great deal given how skeptical I was before -- about what Washington says and does on everything having to do with the federal budget.
From my vantage point 5000+ miles away from the beltway, it was simply impossible not to think that what was happening in DC -- the House and Senate passing fiscal 2014 budget resolutions -- as being even slightly important.
I know that wasn't what was being said in Washington. The GOP was taking credit for its No Budget No Pay provisions pushing the Senate to pass a budget resolution for the first time in four years. Senate Democrats were crowing about passing that budget resolution. The House GOP was bragging about it adopting the latest plan drafted by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) even though it has no chance of becoming law. And Dems were expressing a great deal of pride about the job first-year Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-WA) did in getting the resolution out of committee and adopted in the floor.
It was 1994 and Rep. John Kasich (R-OH), the soon-to-be-named chairman of the House Budget Committee for the just-elected GOP majority, was telling anyone and everyone who would invite him to speak that he didn't care if President Clinton submitted a budget for the coming year because House Republicans were going to ignore it. Kasich didn't use the standard "dead-on-arrival" line, he simply said that nothing Clinton proposed would be of interest because it would be "irrelevant."
Fast forward almost 20 years. The Obama fiscal 2014 budget proposal, which technically was required to be sent to Congress by February 4, now is not expected to be released until late March or even early April. That will make it irrelevant to the House and Senate Budget Committees, which are set to markup their respective versions of the fiscal 2014 budget next week, that is, two weeks or more before the White House's proposal will be available. The president's plan also won't be released before the full House and Senate are expected to debate and vote on what the budget committees produce.
My column from this morning's Roll Call explains why we'd all be much better off if Congress would use the federal budget debate to do something more than send messages. What else? How about a novel idea like policymaking?
Budget Process Is Not Fiscal Instant Messaging
By Stan Collender
Roll Call Contributing Writer
April 24, 2012, Midnight
One of the things that always impressed me about the earliest days of the Congressional budget process — circa 1977-80 — was how quickly Members of Congress learned to use it to send messages.
This would be funny if it weren't so sad in so many ways: House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) has proposed a series of changes in the congressional budget process.
Don't get me wrong; the existing budget process not only is not perfect but is close to a disaster.
But after a full year when it has completely and utterly failed to do anything substantive on the budget itself and every end-run around the existing process restrictions hasn't worked, Ryan is now saying in effect that it's the process' fault and everything would be okay if it were changed...even though the standard process wasn't really used.
To a certain extent this is one of the traditional congressional budget dodges. As any experienced federal budget watcher will tell you, Congress almost always proposes to do something about the budget process when it can't or won't do something about the budget itself. This is the fiscal equivalent of a member of the House or Senate saying "Stop me before I kill again."
There is a growing movement on Capital Hill and elsewhere to make substantial changes to the congressional budget process. Why you might ask (and you should)? Because yet again the process is being blamed for everything that's wrong with the federal budget. Fix the process, we're told, and all our fiscal maladies will go away and the world once again will be an economic garden of Eden.
As I explain in my weekly column in today's Roll Call, calling "BS" on this claim is almost too easy. (FYI..."BS" is a technical term in federal budgeting.)