The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

How to Make the Budget Great Again

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact

With the beginning of a new administration, the best and brightest in leadership are often selected to advise the President.  House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price, M.D. (R-Ga.), who has been nominated as the secretary of Health and Human Services, fits that description.  He will not only be an excellent secretary; he has been an exceptional chairman of the committee.  In December, 2016, Chairman Price proposed a series of changes to the budget process.  His reforms, which will help return the budget process to regular order, include:

  • Biennial Budgeting:Biennial budgeting would create a two-year budget cycle, with the first year devoted to appropriations and the second year to oversight of these expenditures.  The reform has the paradoxical support of both former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and former Senate Budget Committee Chairman Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.).
  • Institutional Reforms: The “power of the purse” is designated exclusively to Congress.But the current process favors the desires of the president over the priorities of Congress.  Budget resolutions by the House and Senate are reported by April 15, with the President’s policy-based budget typically offered the first Monday of February.  As a result, congressional resolutions tend to respond to the President, not the other way around.  The Price plan proposes that the President defer his or her budget until April 30, allowing the President’s priorities to be considered during the conference of the chambers.  It also suggests that the fiscal year reflect the legislative schedule and begin on January 1, rather than October 1.
  • Regulatory Budget:Regulations can have an impact of trillions of dollars on the economy, for better or, more often, for worse.The President’s budget would be required to include the short and long-term costs of current and proposed federal regulations.Further, a baseline of regulatory compliance costs on individuals and businesses would be submitted to Congress by the Office of Management and Budget.
  • Uniform Budget Rules:Budget resolutions in each chamber can have mismatching rules.As a result, the scores for long term costs can differ in each chamber for the same legislation.The consideration of budget resolutions with differing rules should require a conference of the resolutions to resolve the differences.Uniform budget rules would make the agreed-upon budget resolution more enforceable.
  • Unauthorized Programs:According to a January 15, 2016 Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report, $310 billion was spent on unauthorized programs in fiscal year (FY) 2016 alone; worse, more than half of these programs have expired authorizations of ten or more years.  In the 114th Congress, Dr. Price proposed a reduction in the statutory spending limits for unauthorized programs that exceed a certain spending level; Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) offered legislation, the Unauthorized Spending Accountability Act, that would automatically sequester and “sunset” unauthorized programs.  The failure to conduct sufficient oversight and authorization hearings has led to a lack of accountability and transparency in many federal agencies and programs.   

Reforms aside, it is critical that Congress return to a regular budget process that has only been adhered to four times in the past 40 years (FYs 1997, 1995, 1989, and 1977).  Despite pledges to meet budget deadlines from House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the House and Senate were unable to pass all 12 appropriations bills in 2016.  The reforms proposed by the outgoing chairman will help the incoming interim chairman Rep. Diane Black, (R-Tenn.) and indeed, the entire Congress, be better equipped to, in the spirit of President Trump, make the budget process great again.


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