Policy

Republican Senator Seeks Radical Changes to Budget Process

David Perdue floats combining appropriations and authorizations

Georgia Sen. David Perdue is floating changes to the federal budget process. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Senate Republican freshmen have seen enough to know that the way Congress approaches the federal budget is broken.

And a prospective fix that one of them is unveiling Thursday is nothing short of radical — at least by the standards of the often creaky Senate.

Georgia Republican David Perdue is proposing to break down the wall between authorizing and appropriating — a way of doing business that, by design, would upend the 1974 Budget Act.

The proposal would merge authorizing committees and appropriations subcommittees, according to a fact sheet provided to Roll Call.

For instance, the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee could be combined with the Appropriations Labor-HHS-Education Subcommittee.

Montana GOP Sen. Steve Daines, who serves on the appropriations panel, is among the lawmakers backing the effort.

"In Montana, when you're fly-fishing and the line gets tangled you know when it's time to cut the fly and tie on a new fly. When the budget and appropriations process hasn't worked but four times in 40 years it's time to cut the line," Daines told Roll Call.

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Daines joined Perdue and several Republican colleagues, including other GOP freshmen, on the floor Wednesday in a prelude to Thursday's announcement.

"We're not just complaining about the status quo, and again, we're not complaining about the other side. There are no innocent parties when it comes to this debt crisis," Perdue said, pointing to procedural pitfalls in the current budget process that only requires a simple majority to adopt a budget resolution but 60 votes to make appropriations law.

"We’re not going to get a better product, until we have a better process. Let’s solve how we do budgeting and actually get to a better product," said GOP Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma. "Step one — like an AA group — let's admit there is a problem. There is a problem. Step two — let's get to work on fixing it and actually resolve the process, and let’s actually get to work, balancing and paying off our debt."

The proposal, which Perdue is releasing less than 24 hours after Congress passed another stopgap spending bill to keep the government running, is intended to facilitate a discussion about making more than incremental changes to the 1974 Budget Act.

The Georgia senator would make all spending and revenue, everything from entitlements to tax credits, be put on the budget to allow a clearer picture than what's apparent when debates are only about discretionary spending.

The proposal would also shift the government's fiscal year, which currently begins on Oct.1, to a calendar year, as well as restructure the order of considering revenue and spending bills.

Revenue levels (tax policy and otherwise) would be on the agenda for the first quarter of each year, with budgeting for spending to follow. That would effectively eliminate the current function of the Budget Committee.

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But Senate Budget Chairman Michael B. Enzi of Wyoming is supportive of efforts to upend the process. The proposal would shift the Budget Committee to more of a long-term planning body.

"I remember introducing [Perdue] the first time we had a Budget Committee meeting, and I said, 'Sen. Perdue knows how to balance a budget, he’s been working in the private sector.' And he said, 'No, in the private sector you have to show a little bit of a profit,'" Enzi recalled Wednesday of his colleague, a former Fortune 500 business executive. "Well, we're going to have to show a little bit of profit around here if we’re ever going to get rid of the debt."

Contact Lesniewski at NielsLesniewski@cqrollcall.com and follow him on Twitter @nielslesniewski.

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