Price: Budget process within Congress will need overhaul
House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price, who is poised to become part of the Trump administration Cabinet, said tensions between Congress and the White House could be lessened if lawmakers could figure out how to write and stick to their budget.
The Georgia Republican and physician, whom Mr. Trump has tapped to be his health secretary, said Congress should write a two-year budget and should release its blueprint before the White House, reclaiming its “power of the purse” while at the same time relieving the annual struggle to pass all dozen spending bills.
“Timing may seem like a small distinction, but the current scenario — where Congress is essentially responding to the president’s budget — is completely backward and antithetical to the Constitution’s goal and framework,” he said at the Brookings Institution, an influential D.C.-based think tank.
He said budgets should be easier to read, and he said the U.S. comptroller general, who is in charge of the chief watchdog Government Accountability Office, should deliver an annual address to Congress on the fiscal challenges facing the country.
Under current rules, Congress is supposed to complete a budget by April 15 each year, and the spending committees then use that broad blueprint to write 12 appropriations bills doling out the money by Sept. 30.
In reality, Congress never meets either deadline, and over the last 40 years that’s spawned a series of shutdown showdowns and some 173 stopgap bills to keep the government running while lawmakers argue.
Several times even that’s failed, and the government has gone into a partial shutdown — including, most recently, in 2013.
“It’s a process marked by missed deadlines, by crises and deadlock,” said Stuart M. Stevens, a senior fellow for economic studies at Brookings.
Mr. Price said the chaos bubbled to the surface in the past election, as Mr. Trump rode a wave of populist angst over D.C. dysfunction to the White House.
“The American people are fully aware that government as we know it is not working well, and they want to shake up the system,” he said.
He said that starts with reining in spending. Automatic spending on health entitlements and Social Security will soon account for three-quarters of the annual budget, so Mr. Price said Congress should create a commission, akin to the “BRAC” commission that examines military base closures, to examine whether some mandatory programs should be tossed back into the discretionary side of the ledger so Congress can revisit the spending on a regular basis.
“In each of these instances, Congress — the people’s representatives — would have a say in the treatment of our automatic spending programs,” he said.
For months Mr. Price and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Michael B. Enzi, Wyoming Republican, have urged Congress to consider the first bipartisan overhaul of the budget process since 1974.
Democrats have signaled they’re open to at least one pillar of their proposals — budgeting for two years instead of just one, so there is more time for oversight of how the money is spent.
“We ought to see how it works, and re-evaluate it at a later date,” Mr. Price said.