What Others Are Saying

Monday, February 6, 2017

Albany Herald: Implementing a biennial federal budgeting plan is past due

Legislation co-introduced by Sen. Johnny Isakson deserves serious consideration

U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., have re-introduced legislation that Congress should pass — a bill that would establish a two-year federal budget cycle.

We have endorsed this concept in the past because it is federal budget reform that has two characteristics that are in short supply in our nation’s capital.

First, while every lawmaker that introduces a bill seems to want to tag it as being a “commonsense” proposal, this particular budget reform measure, the Biennial Budgeting and Appropriations Act, actually lives up to the label.

Second, this legislation has bipartisan support, which these days is as rare as proverbial hen’s teeth.

The aim of the legislation is to force Congress to do its most important job — pass a budget that makes wise use of Americans’ tax dollars. By swapping the annual appropriations work that always seems to go nowhere in a dysfunctional Congress for spending plans that cover two years, Congress would write the spending plan one year and be free to oversee it the next. By having the appropriations year opposite an election year, there’s a much better chance of keeping the federal spending plan from being caught up in political theatrics.

Plus, the current way Congress is doing business simply isn’t working and hasn’t in many years, so it’s not like U.S. lawmakers would be risking a great deal by implementing the change.

If approved by Congress and signed into law by the president, the legislation would require the president to submit a two-year budget at the beginning of the first session of a Congress (each Congress has two one-year sessions; the 115th Congress’ first session began last month). Lawmakers would adopt a two-year budget resolution and two-year appropriations bills in their first session. The second session would be devoted to the consideration of authorization bills and oversight of federal programs.

In announcing the reintroduction of the legislation, Isakson noted the discontent that voters have expressed about the way Washington “does business,” a criticism that also seems to have bipartisan support. Democrats and Republicans have strongly differing views on how federal money should be spent, but we believe most on both sides would agree that the process in place in D.C. is not working in anyone’s best interests, whether liberal, conservative or in-between.

“It’s time that Washington does what every American family has to do: Sit down and figure out what’s working and what isn’t and set spending priorities,” Isakson said. “This system would increase oversight and reduce wasteful spending, making our federal government more efficient and more accountable to taxpayers.”

Shaheen said she’s seen this type of plan work at the state government level. “In New Hampshire, we have seen firsthand that biennial budgeting works, and it’s time to bring this commonsense reform to Washington,” she said. “Our bipartisan proposal will allow for better oversight of taxpayer dollars and a more thoughtful budget process with fewer opportunities for manufactured crises.”

This looks like one of the most promising tools readily available to Congress for getting a handle on the national checkbook. It is something both parties can support. It is reform that is past due. Congress should give this concept swift and serious consideration. Only political inertia will keep it from President Trump’s desk.