Policy

Deal on Budget Makeover Gets ‘Closer.’ So Does the November Deadline

Sen. Joni Ernst: ‘We have to wait for the House’

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, is one of 16 lawmakers working to overhaul the budget and appropriations process. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Members of the joint House and Senate panel tasked with overhauling the budget and appropriations process said they were getting closer to reaching a final agreement on bipartisan recommendations after a private meeting Wednesday.

“We talked about the debt, we talked about recommendations from some of these outside people who came in to testify. So the vortex is narrowing down,” said Georgia Republican Sen. David Perdue. “And we’re getting agreement on things like reconciliation, schedule, biennial budgeting, fiscal year. So I’m encouraged. It may not be everything I would want, but we’re getting to something that actually could work.”

Perdue said members were moving toward a “potential proposal” and that while there isn’t a timeline for when a final draft would be released, the goal is to have text released “much before” the Nov. 30 deadline.

“I’m thinking sometime in September, or early October,” Perdue said.

House lawmakers who sit on the 16-member Joint Select Committee on Budget and Appropriations Process Reform, who are out of town for that chamber’s August recess, called in to the meeting.

GOP Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa said Wednesday’s discussion moved the select committee “closer” to a final agreement. But she said no draft bill can be agreed to until House members come back to Washington.

“We’re coming closer, but we have to wait for the House,” Ernst said.

Private meetings among select committee members have been ongoing during the past month, after members concluded a series of five public hearings in July. Lawmakers and budget experts from off of Capitol Hill testified about problems with the current process and suggested various ways to improve it.

Among the numerous proposals under discussion are moving from an annual to a biennial budget process, including the possibility of splitting up consideration of the 12 annual spending bills to spread them out over two years. Some want to also move the fiscal year budget cycle to a calendar year process, to give members more time to work on spending bills — and adding the threat of Christmas in Washington if they can’t get work done earlier.

There have been proposals by some outside groups, which members are considering, to strengthen the Budget Committee’s authority so it can set binding, enforceable deficit targets; others have suggested eliminating what they regard to be ineffectual Budget panels.

Any consensus budget process legislation, which the panel would have to adopt with majorities on both sides of the aisle, has to be approved by Nov. 30 under the law establishing the 16-member select committee.

If the panel can agree to report a bill, the measure would be subject to expedited consideration in the Senate, though the typical 60-vote threshold to move to a final vote would apply. However, the law does not stipulate that the measure would be granted special consideration in the House. Therefore, it would be solely at the discretion of that chamber’s leadership whether to bring a consensus budget process package to the floor.

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