James C. Capretta
The congressional budget process: A brief primer
James C. Capretta
Transparency for Congress' Scorekeepers
Matt Jensen | National Affairs
Two of the most important and powerful agencies of the federal government are barely known to the American public. The Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation are Congress' scorekeepers. The assumptions made by the CBO and the JCT, and the assessments they produce, shape nearly every federal policy debate. These projections come to be treated as facts, shaping the way various policy proposals are understood and debated.
Max Boot writes: Bolton is right that Trump’s policies have been more conventional than expected, but he is wrong to ascribe this development to insidious foreign policy elites. President Trump is simply being forced to acknowledge the complex realities that he refused to grapple with on the campaign trail. - Commentary
The late, great Meg Greenfield, editor at large for Newsweek once remarked that if you want to understand Washington, you need to remember 'high school'. The cliques that animate social authority are no different throughout D.C. Authority is ranked in a hierarchy, for real power is dispersed from appropriations committees to foreign policy, then Judicial.
Given the near fatal beat-down the Democratic Party received on November 04, 2014, the GOP should assess HOW budgetary matters are resolved. This is the key to consolidating meaningful reform.
The House has not had 'regular order' for sometime, it has remained stuck in 'continuing resolutions'. The threat of opening the House & Senate to debate on the process of how budgets are constructed is needed.
Because without regular order, the entire government lurches from one crisis to another with irresponsible threats of default, a government shutdown, a manufactured fiscal cliff, failed super-committee, valiant bi-partisan commissions, task forces and gangs. LOL. All of this is to broker political agreements between parties whose principals are irreconcilable. To break gridlock and its attendant partisan polarization, the entire process must be reformed.
Senator Pat Murray and Chairman Paul Ryan, chairs of the Budget Committees have stepped forward with credible plans to reform both chambers. Any meaningful reform must include four elements.
1. Federal Budgets must include all spending and revenues. Currently, both chambers focus on 'discretionary spending', the money that Congress appropriates to keep federal agencies doing their respective tasks. This only involves a third of federal spending. Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and entitlement programs run on autopilot. Reform would address this issue along with the heavy volume of tax expenditures throughout the tax code. The budget process itself must construct an engagement for the setting of priorities.
2. The Budget Process must be completed on time and understandable. The process called 'regular order' was established with the Budget Reform Act of 1974.
This enabled Committees to pursue agendas independently and without any centralized political oversight. Prior to the Reform act, both spending and revenue measures were dealt separately. Simplifying this process would detail budgeting for two year intervals.
3. The construction of the federal budget would have the active participation of the entire Congress with leadership from the executive. This means up-or-down-votes on the massive programs that remain on auto-pilot. Currently, the segmented committee process permits entire classes of Congressional membership to op-out of voting in the construction of budgets.
4. Adopt standard managerial cost accounting and capital budgeting. Currently, both chambers use accounting methodology that obscures the very clarity required in the assessment of costs, expenditures and overheads adding nearly 40% annually. Although it has NOT been studied by the Congressional Budget Office, numerous credible economists (monetarists in particular) note the role of fiscal policy constitutive to inflation. A coherent system of comparative cost analysis used by industry would assist government budgeting, addressing clarity of expense accounts, transparency and deliverables, including subsidized credit policy as 'rent seeking'.
If the G.O.P. is serious about reform, it will start with HOW budgets are created.