Voting on a budget every two years instead of annually just means that Members of Congress only have to go on record every other year on the overall deficit and debt. That means less, rather than more, accountability. It also means less transparency and responsibility if the ultimate result is that votes on the budget can be avoided more often before the next election.
Biennial budgeting also makes little sense because of how unlikely it is that a two-year budget will be based on an accurate assessment of the economy over the period it will be in place. With a biennial budget, White House economic forecasts and cost estimates would be completed 10 months before the first of the two fiscal years covered in the budget and almost two full years before the second. Other than pure luck, there’s no way any of the forecasts, projections and estimates in the second year would be close to correct.
Biennial budget supporters say that two-year budgets and appropriations could always be revised. But there’s no point of doing two-year budgets and spending bills if annual (or more frequent) updates are going to be needed anyway. That’s budgeting by supplemental appropriation and is a terrible idea.
The long-held view that two-year budgeting will allow Congress to do more oversight of existing programs is nonsense. Few of the authorization committees that do oversight currently have budget-related responsibilities that prevent them from reviewing the agencies and departments within their jurisdiction.
They just don’t do it. The budget process is not what’s stopping the committees now; a two-year process won’t make it more likely that they will do more (or any) in the future.
Using budget process changes to implement an actual agreement on spending and revenues would make a great deal of sense. In fact, the budget process revisions of the past have only been successful when they implemented that type of political consensus.
But without that consensus, saying that changing the budget process will solve our fiscal woes is the federal budget equivalent of telling an alcoholic that all he or she has to do to deal with the disease is take a different route home so they don’t walk past the bar every day.
Stan Collender is a partner at Qorvis Communications and founder of the blog Capital Gains and Games. He is also the author of “The Guide to the Federal Budget.”