Budget process policy details aren’t usually exciting enough to get onto the evening news, but they are a very important part of our federal political system. In fact, reforming the way we conduct our budgeting from an annual to an every-other-year process could be an essential tool for reducing gridlock in Washington. Unfortunately, this discussion was absent in the 2016 election.
You show me your budget, and I will tell you your priorities. The same is true for members of Congress: We fight to spend taxpayer money on the priorities of the people we represent, and we are judged by how we vote on spending bills. In order to budget the nation’s money, Congress must pass a budget specifying our overall spending cap and then 12 appropriations bills every year, roughly one bill to fund each federal agency. This is meant to stretch over the year with each bill’s merits debated in public, and then voted on by Congress so constituents can easily understand what their representatives are prioritizing.
However, the process rarely works that way, and in election years, it’s worse – we have not passed a budget altogether in three-quarters of the past eight election years. In order to avoid a government shutdown, Congress usually passes short-term funding bills negotiated behind closed doors by congressional leadership. These measures roll all spending provisions into one vote, can be thousands of pages, and usually can’t be amended by members of Congress, who often have a day to read them. This effectively silences millions of Americans’ voices by preventing their representatives from working on their behalf.
This is a failure to govern, and it’s inexcusable. Many reforms have been suggested to improve the process, but none has garnered more bipartisan support than my Biennial Budgeting and Enhanced Oversight Act. The bill would change our broken annual budget system to an every-other-year budget process.
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By switching to a biennial budgeting system, we would remove budgeting from election years. Instead, Congress would spend the second year in each biennium conducting the detailed oversight of government agencies and programs that is currently being neglected. It would encourage transparency and cost savings by allowing federal agencies to plan ahead and budget money longer term. Perhaps more importantly, it would significantly reduce the brinkmanship of shutdown politics, which has harmed our political system, our economy and our international reputation. It must end.
Biennial budgeting reform is supported by both a Republican majority in Congress and a Democratic executive branch, but there was absolutely no debate in this election season about how we dice up trillions of dollars each year. I would suggest that we start by debating the solutions like biennial budgeting that already have broad support.
Reid Ribble is a Republican representing Wisconsin’s 8th congressional district.