Three Measures We Hope the JSC Will Consider

The Joint Select Committee on Budget and Appropriations Process Reform (JSC) has an important opportunity to improve our broken budget process. Recent reports indicate the JSC is considering biennial budgeting and changing the fiscal year to match the calendar year, both changes that we support. Merely enacting some bipartisan improvements will help lawmakers recommit to making the budget process work.

Still, given the terrible state of budgeting in this country as well as our dangerous fiscal path, we would urge the JSC to go a few steps further.

Three additional steps we hope they will consider include:

Help end crisis-driven budgeting: The JSC should consider measures to encourage meeting the budget deadline, holding lawmakers accountable if they don’t, and avoiding last minute budget showdowns, which tend to lead to bad budget outcomes. We recommend prohibiting consideration of legislation with a fiscal impact unless a budget resolution is in place, an idea our Co-Chair Leon Panetta recommended during his testimony before the JSC. Additionally, we support the idea that lawmakers should not be allowed to leave town if a budget resolution is overdue or other specified deadlines are missed. Senators Joni Ernst (R-IA), James Lankford (R-OK), and David Perdue (R-GA) have introduced legislation to this effect. 

End gimmicky budgeting: Budget gimmicks abound, and they undermine the integrity of the budget and lead to more irresponsible outcomes. We support:

  1. Minimizing “rosy scenario” and “magic asterisk” gimmicks by, for example, requiring budget resolutions to use the Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) baseline and economic assumptions and including reconciliation instructions for all changes to mandatory spending and revenue assumed in the budget;
  2. Strengthening limits on the use of Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO)/Global War On Terrorism (GWOT) designations, disaster funds, and emergency spending;
  3. Preventing timing gimmicks by disallowing offsets that shift tax and entitlement payments from one fiscal year to another; prohibiting the use of mandatory or revenue ten-year offsets without long-term savings unless they are used for truly temporary policies; and prohibiting the use of Changes In Mandatory Programs (CHIMPs) that shift current-year Budget Authority (BA) to future years; and
  4. Ending the use of cuts in empty budget authority to help comply with budget caps.

See our full budget gimmicks report here.

Stick to some modest budget constraints: We recognize that unfortunately, it may be too much for the JSC to adopt measures to improve the fiscal state of the nation at this time. But they could move forward with modest measures to help keep budgets from making things worse. We strongly support making it more difficult to pass legislation that adds to the debt by raising the required threshold to waive Statutory Pay-As-You-Go (PAYGO), currently 60 votes, and requiring a separate vote to do so to force lawmakers to be transparent about their choices to increase the debt.

And separately, we support requiring that reconciliation be used for deficit reduction only by restoring and codifying the “Conrad rule” that prohibited reconciliation bills from increasing ten-year deficits. Many lawmakers have called for this in the past including 47 senators voting in favor of this rule during consideration of the FY 2018 budget resolution.

Would we like to see the JSC do more? Absolutely. Ideally, they would adopt measures to:

  • Budget for mandatory spending and tax expenditures with a multi-year budget and regular reviews.
  • Reform the debt ceiling to reduce the risk of default while linking it to tax and spending decisions to make policymakers better acknowledge where borrowing comes from.
  • Adopt a fiscal goal, multi-year debt targets to create a glide path, and fair triggers to enforce the targets, as we recommend in the Peterson-Pew report "Getting Back in the Black."

But as an interim yet significant step, we encourage the JSC to look to these balanced measures that could make significant improvements to the existing process. For all our recommendations, see The Better Budget Process Initiative: Recommendations for the JSC.