Two years ago, House Republicans outlined our Better Way agenda to tackle some of the country’s biggest challenges. For House Republican Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), restoring the American people’s voice in Congress was — and continues to be — a key component of that bold agenda.
Restoring the people’s voice begins with reforming the way Congress does business, specifically how it utilizes its ‘power of the purse’ authority outlined in Article I of the Constitution. In an op-ed for CNBC, Chair McMorris Rodgers outlines her vision to clean up the ‘toxic’ budget process and end the annual showdown. Click here or continue scrolling to read her op-ed.
How Congress can clean up our ‘toxic’ budget process and end the ‘annual showdown’
By Chair McMorris Rodgers
Congress just passed a bipartisan bill to fund much of the government to a tune of $854 billion. I voted for it in order to avert a partial government shutdown and because the bill funds American taxpayers’ priorities–most importantly, a pay raise for troops and money to rebuild our armed forces.
But despite securing these priorities, people across the political spectrum say this process of having single up-or-down votes on packages of spending bills “stinks.”
As legislators, we hold the purse strings under Article I of the U.S. Constitution. In fact, approving funding and providing federal government oversight are among our most fundamental constitutional duties; however, the budget process is so broken it forces us into an annual government funding showdown where both parties leverage impending crises to score political points.
This budget mess is becoming too toxic, and Congress needs to start cleaning it up.
To fix the process itself, we must update the outdated Congressional Budget and Impoundment Act of 1974 (also known as the Budget Act), which is the framework we work within to exercise our Article I power of the purse. There are few incentives in the current process for the government to run on a timely, realistic budget that puts the American people first.
To start tackling our spending problem, we should prevent unauthorized spending so that taxpayer dollars are only spent on programs that are working and properly scrutinized. I have a proposal, the Unauthorized Spending Accountability (USA) Act that prevents spending on programs that have not received sufficient oversight or authorization. It will allow us to do our job of reviewing, rethinking, and possibly eliminating government programs that are currently running on autopilot.
But we can’t fix a spending problem without knowing how much we’re actually spending. In order to get a more accurate picture, we should institute zero-base budgeting– a budget process that looks at what is needed for the upcoming period, regardless of whether the budget is higher or lower than the previous years.
Next, implementing regulatory budgeting would provide an accurate count of how much a regulation will cost the economy. If we account for how much we will extract in taxes, we should also track compliance costs of red tape. Finally, it is a commonsense approach to enforce the debt limit as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) instead of a fixed dollar amount. Put another way, we need to measure our debt against how much our economy produces.
Separate from fixing the spending problem, but just as crucial, is getting the budget to run on time. While the Budget Act establishes deadlines for Congress and the administration, Congress rarely meets these deadlines. To stop Congress from lurching from crisis to crisis, we should move to biennial budgeting and a calendar-year budget cycle. This will allow more time to assess programs and provide necessary, effective oversight.
The U.S. Senate is also a roadblock to passing responsible government funding. It’s time for the Senate to consider a simple majority, rather than the 60-vote threshold, on must-pass spending bills. Unfortunately, the Senate’s outdated rules empower a small minority of senators to obstruct the will of the American people by holding must-pass measures hostage over partisan politics.
We saw this when the Republican-controlled House passed all 12 appropriation bills last year with conservative policies included. Unsurprisingly, Senate Democrats blocked them all. As a result, we passed multiple continuing resolutions, endured a government shutdown for nearly three days and temporarily agreed to lift spending limits in order to pass funding through the House and Senate. We can avoid this in the future by changing the Senate’s vote threshold.
Undeniable spending problem
Critics claim the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is causing the deficit problem, but we know it’s because the federal government spends too much. This undeniable spending problem has saddled us with a budget deficit of $895 billion this year, meaning we will soon spend as much on interest on the debt as we spend on our military, and every U.S. citizen’s share is more than $65,000.
Conversely, our Republican tax cuts, regulatory rollback, and pro-jobs agenda have put more taxpayers in the workforce and added $19 billion in federal revenue.
This broken budget process, coupled with the federal government’s spending problem, is exactly why people don’t trust the government to use their hard-earned dollars responsibly.
In order for any reforms to work so we can rebuild their trust, both sides of the aisle will need to show leadership, fix the process, and have the courage to put America’s fiscal sanity ahead of party.