Sen. Isakson: Budgeting Could Prevent Shutdowns
Monday, February 18th, 2019
Our nation’s annual budget process is broken, a reality we recently experienced firsthand during a budget disagreement that shut down operations for several federal agencies.
Congress’ failure to budget responsibly caused workers, contractors and citizens to suffer.
A government shutdown does not solve our nation’s problems, and the constant threat of stopping our government’s operations unnecessarily harms our economy at a time when we’re experiencing record economic growth.
I’m currently working on several fronts to prevent this from occurring in the future. I have again cosponsored legislation to permanently put a stop to government shutdowns, and thankfully that effort is gaining traction.
But until we confront and overhaul our budget process, problems will continue and government spending will too often remain unchecked. Our debt limit continues to rise, and accountability should be a healthy and necessary requirement for any operation, especially when it comes to taxpayer money.
As the American people have seen all too clearly in recent years, it’s past time that Congress moves to a better way of performing this basic but important feature of our jobs.
I’ve sponsored a bill called the Biennial Budgeting and Appropriations Act in each Congress since 2009 that would have a direct, positive impact on how the government spends federal dollars while also saving taxpayer money. I introduced it again in January with Senator Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H.
This legislation would move our federal government to a two-year budget cycle. It would require the president to submit a two-year budget at the beginning of each new Congress.
During the first year, members of Congress would work to pass a two-year funding bill. During the second year, Congress would devote its time to overseeing federal programs and government spending.
This reformed budget process would free up valuable time in committees and on the Senate and House floors to allow for consideration of legislation that is important to our constituencies.
It also takes the election-year politics out of our funding process by passing appropriations bills only during non-election years.
The bipartisan Biennial Budgeting and Appropriations Act has been endorsed by both Republican and Democratic presidents and by numerous federal budget experts.
Former governors like my bill’s cosponsor, Sen. Shaheen, have seen firsthand the success of biennial budgeting in New Hampshire and in 19 other states, further proof that moving to a two-year budget cycle can work on a federal level.
Our concept is making progress.
The biennial budgeting bill passed as an amendment to the 2013 budget resolution by a 68-31 vote in the Senate. The strong vote for our amendment provided additional momentum and demonstrated the appeal of this proposal across party lines.
It led to a Senate Budget Committee hearing on the legislation in 2015, and in 2016, both the U.S. Senate and U.S. House budget committee chairmen included versions of biennial budgeting in separate proposals to reform the federal budget process.
In 2018, a new joint select committee was tasked with fixing Washington’s broken budget process. Draft legislation prepared by the committee would have provided for biennial budget resolutions along the lines of our proposal. Unfortunately, the legislation broke down over partisan arguments and ultimately failed to receive the necessary votes to move forward.
If members of that committee had known then what was coming with this latest shutdown, perhaps the outcome would have been different. Those of us supporting this bill are now more energized than ever about finding ways to get it passed and signed into law.
This plan would allow more time for Congress to conduct proper oversight of government agencies. It would provide greater certainty to our agencies – including our armed forces – by allowing them to make plans for two years. And it allows flexibility if, for example, disaster relief was needed for emergencies.
This approach would help ensure an on-time budget cycle and remove the political deadlines and uncertainty that produce results like we just experienced in the most recent government shutdown.
Congress should adopt a simple, disciplined way of spending the people’s money the same way Americans decide at their kitchen tables how to best budget their money.
It’s time to fix our broken budget process, tackle debt and prove to taxpayers that their federal government cares about how their money is being spent. The time has come to pass the Biennial Budgeting and Appropriations Act.