MacGuineas Testifies Before Senate Subcommittee

Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, testified before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee's Subcommittee on Federal Spending Oversight and Emergency Management on Tuesday, February 6, at 2:30 p.m. ET. The topic of the hearing was “Terrible, No Good, Very Bad Ways of Funding Government: Exploring the Cost to Taxpayers of Spending Uncertainty caused by Governing through Continuing Resolutions, Giant Omnibus Spending Bills, and Shutdown Crises.” 

Watch the hearing below:

MacGuineas's testimony addressed the following four themes:

1. Budgeting is one of the most basic functions of governing, and we are failing.

The federal budget process suffers from a lack of accountability and transparency, continued use of gimmicks, a focus on the short term, spending and tax expenditures that are on autopilot, and as a result poor fiscal outcomes.

2. CRs and omnibuses represent a failure of the budget process.

A budget process dominated by continuing resolutions not only leads to brinksmanship and unpredictability for agencies, but it can also increase waste. The current broken process makes the federal government vulnerable to costly shutdowns and leads to reliance on deficit-increasing add-ons to “grease the wheels” for spending legislation. Once spending bills are combined into an omnibus and reach the status of must-pass legislation, Congress often votes on a bill it hasn’t had time to consider and examine in detail.

3. Our fiscal situation is approaching dangerous territory, and we are not only failing to address it, we are making it worse.

Our debt is already at post-WWII record highs as a share of the economy, and mandatory spending will increase as the population ages and healthcare costs continue to rise. Interest costs also drive the debt. Not only did the recent tax bill exacerbate our fiscal problems, we have done nothing to increase revenue or rein in the mandatory spending programs, which puts increasing pressure on discretionary spending and can slow economic growth.

4. There are multiple ways to improve the budget process. None can replace political will.

Changes could include incremental reforms such as a two-year budget process, measures that prevent shutdowns such as automatic continuing resolutions, or a budget resolution enforced by law. Policymakers could have stronger incentives and/or punishments by imposing consequences for failure to meet a budget deadline, such as canceling August recess or withholding pay for members of Congress.  However, a broader overhaul would be best. Congress should consider multi-year budgets with enforcement triggers, as well as separating the fiscal goal and legislative framework components of the budget resolution.