Opinions and Speeches

Friday, September 30, 2016

MDJ: JOHNNY ISAKSON: Governing by threat of shutdown no way to run a country

As published in the Marietta Daily Journal

Once again this fall, Congress found itself required to quickly pass yet another temporary funding measure up against yet another end-of-the-fiscal-year deadline to avoid a government shutdown. Setting budget priorities or cutting wasteful spending weren’t even part of the discussion.

And there are those in Washington who wonder why our debt and deficits grow.

Sadly, this chaotic practice every September in Washington when the fiscal year ends is nothing new, and our broken budget process is in desperate need of repair. Solving our long-term deficit problems will require tough choices in every area of the federal budget, but we’ll never be able to make those choices unless we change the way we do business in Washington.

Continuing to cut backroom deals and pass massive spending bills at the last minute, facing the threat of a government shutdown, is not the answer. As I testified before the Senate Committee on the Budget last year, the only way we can truly solve this problem is by rethinking the way we budget. Just like every family in Georgia has to do, we in Congress must sit down and find a way to balance our checkbooks. That starts with figuring out what we can’t afford. In other words, we need a way to find and cut out the wasteful government spending.

I’ve introduced a bill to help us do just that, called the Biennial Budgeting and Appropriations Act, S.150. This bipartisan legislation offers a new way to produce a federal budget, and it involves shifting to a two-year budgeting cycle.

With my Biennial Budgeting and Appropriations Act, the first year of each new two-year Congress would be dedicated to passing a budget resolution and thoughtfully appropriating federal dollars as intended. The second year would be spent conducting important budget oversight that is too often overlooked with the annual chaos of the current budget process.

By carefully examining these federal programs, Congress could learn what’s working and what’s not, and could stop wasteful and duplicative spending on the programs that aren’t working. In Washington, where campaign promises come home to roost, “saving” has become a dirty word. Instead of focusing on how best to treat taxpayers’ dollars and finding areas where savings could be made, too often the discussion in Washington is focused on how much can be spent.

My biennial budgeting plan also provides much needed stability. Federal agencies would be better able to plan in a two-year cycle and could greatly reduce the current “use it or lose it” culture associated with annual spending years. The stability of my plan also would benefit the thousands of companies that do business with the federal government. As a former business owner myself, I know how important predictability and long-term planning are to growing a business.

Nineteen states currently operate under a biennial budget. The concept has also been supported by every president since Ronald Reagan. After I testified last year, the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee endorsed the concept of biennial budgeting. Last week, it was endorsed by U.S. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.

Washington has a spending problem, and it is urgent that our nation’s capital get its fiscal house in order. My biennial budgeting plan is a strong step toward fixing this broken process. It is an idea whose time has come, because governing by the threat of shutdown is no way to run a country.

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Republican Johnny Isakson of Marietta was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 2004. He currently serves on the Senate Committees on Finance; Health, Education, Labor and Pensions; and Foreign Relations, and is Chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs and Select Committee on Ethics.