Rep. Quigley Promotes Budget Process Reform

In a reprise of last year, Congressman Mike Quigley (D-IL) recently reintroduced his bill to create a more transparent budget regime and reform the federal budget process. Quigley’s “Transparent and Sustainable Budget Act of 2011” contains several sound ideas. Key provisions include:

  • A debt reduction target of 60 percent of Gross Domestic Product and a deficit target of three percent of GDP within 10 years.
  • Office of Management and Budget production of a “Quadrennial Fiscal Sustainability Review” as well as a report on unbudgeted fiscal exposures.
  • Use of an accrual accounting system to apply to certain budget areas including retirement benefits and environmental liabilities, as recommended by the Government Accountability Office.
  • Including Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and other similar agencies in the budget.
  • Requiring the Congressional Budget Office and Joint Committee on Taxation to include the second decade budgetary impact of any bill they score for Congress.
  • Convening an annual joint session of Congress each October to hear an address from the president on the nation’s long-term fiscal sustainability.
  • Requiring more transparency and evaluation of tax expenditures.

Rep. Quigley also provided in-depth recommendations for fixing the federal budget process in a report late last year. The new bill acknowledges the need for an effective budget process in dealing with rising debt. CRFB commends Congressman Quigley and the bill’s co-sponsors for putting forth a sensible proposal that should initiate debate and action. As Quigley notes,

To truly get our fiscal house in order, we must have a clear understanding of what we’re spending and how we spend it. Fixing a broken budget process allows us to set realistic goals for deficit reduction, and take substantive steps toward a future that isn’t weighed down by debt.

Many correctly point out that budget process reform alone is not enough to get us out of our current fiscal mess. But the process has become so broken that it impedes progress in addressing the country’s immediate and longer-term fiscal challenges. An important and necessary step in this difficult journey is fixing the framework that guides federal budget formulation and implementation.

Quigley’s legislation complements recommendations made by the Peterson-Pew Commission on Budget Reform, which included the goal of stabilizing the debt at 60 percent of GDP by the year 2018 in its December 2009 report, Red Ink Rising. The commission built upon the foundations of the paper in its recent follow-up report on budget process reform, Getting Back in the Black, which shares many similar recommendations to the Quigley bill, such as including tax expenditures in the budget process.

As federal government funding for this fiscal year continues in a haphazard fashion and policymakers get serious about addressing our fiscal dilemma, there certainly is growing, bipartisan momentum for budget process reform. The recommendations in the new legislation and those from the Peterson-Pew Commission represent sound, thoughtful proposals to create a budget process that is not only more functional and transparent, but will facilitate the establishment and enforcement of fiscal goals that will put the country on a better fiscal path.