How and Why We Budget
The American people are frustrated. For too long, they have seen too many in Washington standing in the way of responsible decisions that need to be made to secure our country’s future. Despite the fact that there has been some success – including cutting the deficit by over $800 billion – pushing back against the tax more/spend more agenda of President Obama, citizens are keenly aware that far more must be done to restore fiscal responsibility and advance real solutions.
Meanwhile our nation’s mountain of debt continues to grow. If Washington is ever going to get our debt under control and earn back the trust of the American people, Congress must lead the way by asserting its constitutional authority. Article I of the Constitution clearly states that it is the job of the legislative branch to write laws and to provide funding for government operations. With that duty come the responsibilities to be good stewards of the taxpayer’s hard-earned dollars and to ensure, through robust oversight, that the executive branch correctly enforces the law.
One way Congress meets that responsibility is through the annual appropriations process. Twelve individual bills that cover one-third of the budget – what is called “discretionary” spending – are supposed to be adopted on a yearly basis. Unfortunately, what often happens is passage of stop-gap legislation that maintains status quo spending levels. Or multiple appropriations bills are cobbled together into a giant package that is so dense and so all-encompassing that it makes it harder to have real transparency and accountability. This diminishes Congress’s constitutionally defined role in policymaking, while surrendering power and authority to the executive branch.
Meanwhile, the other two-thirds of the budget – what is known as “automatic” spending because the government pays the bills without a required annual appropriation – goes largely untouched and insufficiently scrutinized. That share of the annual budget is only growing larger, which means more and more of the money that Washington spends is being disbursed outside the regular, annual review process. When more and more spending is on auto-pilot, there are fewer and fewer opportunities or incentives for Congress to take a hard look at what the government is spending money on and to whom it is paying and to what extent that money is getting a positive result, if any.
The budget is the one legislative vehicle that looks at the whole picture, every year – both discretionary and automatic spending, along with taxes and oversight. It then lays out a vision for how to reconcile the priorities of the American people into a coherent strategy to put our fiscal house in order and appropriately fund those priorities. That is why, since being given the House majority, Republicans have written and fought for budgets that rein in spending and focus attention on reforming government. As proof of that effort, last year the House and Senate – now also with a Republican majority – were able to agree to the first joint 10-year balanced budget resolution since 2001.
As the chairman and vice chairman of the House Budget Committee, we spent the last few months working with our colleagues on the committee as well as other members and committees of the House of Representatives, to put together a Fiscal Year 2017 budget – one that reflects the challenging times we live in today as well as the opportunities we have as a nation to build a stronger and more prosperous future. The House Budget Committee approved “A Balanced Budget for a Stronger America” last month. It is a long-term, comprehensive vision for getting our spending and our debt under control by balancing the budget. If the policies we are promoting were enacted, we would further reduce the deficit over the next decade by $7 trillion – more than any previous House Budget Committee proposal. Discretionary spending would be below what it was in 2008. All of this would be accomplished without raising anyone’s taxes, and it would put us on a path to actually paying off our national debt.
The policies we propose would create a positive environment for a healthier economy, save and strengthen vital programs like Medicare and our social safety net, and provide our military with the resources needed to keep the country safe. Our solutions reflect the common-sense, conservative principles that have made this nation the strongest and most prosperous the world has ever known.
Passing a budget is the first vital step to ensuring we are pursuing an agenda that can address our fiscal, economic, and national security challenges – that speaks to the issues American citizens, families, and businesses care about and are contending with each and every day. Failing to budget means forfeiting critical oversight opportunities and weakening our budget enforcement capabilities. To put it simply: You cannot enforce a budget without a budget.
Not having a budget would also deny Congress the opportunity to use a powerful legislative tool called reconciliation, which gives it the ability to pass a major deficit reduction package with real, significant reforms with a simple majority vote in the Senate. It is how we were able to put a repeal of Obamacare on the president’s desk this year. It is also the best way to get the country focused on reforming our automatic spending programs that are driving the debt because all of the presidential candidates would be forced to acknowledge that a reform reconciliation package could soon be on their desk. This opportunity only presents itself if the House and Senate agree to a budget resolution together.
A budget is so much more than just numbers. It is how we advance the cause of responsible fiscal stewardship by shining a broad, bright spotlight on the key drivers of our debt, the key failures of government, and begin to build a mandate for fundamental reform.