The Outsider’s Guide To The Federal Budget 3

Figure 5The Way Forward-
Reinventing The Budget Process:
The primary responsibility of Congress is to fund the federal government; however, years of dysfunction and gridlock led to runaway spending by both parties. In order to address our fiscal imbalance, we must first restore restraint and fiscal sanity back to Washington by reforming our broken budget process. The process for funding the federal government needs to happen on a regular and predictable cycle. Unlike previous post-1974 reforms that seek to reform the current funding process, this needs to be a clean sheet approach – a reinvention of the funding process. This can be changed. In fact, it must be changed right now.

We are out of time for idle debate and partisan bickering. As we consider creating new funding process, there are a few guiding principles Washington should consider when creating a completely new budgeting process:

First, the budget should have the enforcement power of a law. Fiscal discipline cannot be fully achieved if the agreed upon budget can be ignored or abandoned at any time when financial decisions become too tough or politically motivated.

Figure 5Second, the budget should be all encompassing. It should include all spending and all revenue including tax expenditures. In Figure 6, we see that mandatory spending explodes in the coming decades. Most people do not know that about seventy percent of what the federal government spends is mandatory and is not accounted for in the budget process. We must have a realistic accounting of all government spending to fully understand the fiscal catastrophe we are facing and be able to fix it.

Third, there should be real consequences for Congress if it does not fund the federal government on time. Firm deadlines for each phase of the funding process should be enforced without exception. Consequences for not completing every step of the process should impact those who failed to do their job – Congress – not the military or the American people.

Fourth, Congress should redesign its process to accommodate the timely completion of funding the federal government. The current committee structure and the funding timeline need to be realigned to facilitate a timely debate of the issues so funds can be allocated appropriately and ensure accountability. Part of this realignment should include changing the funding process from the fiscal year to the calendar year, in order to allow a full budgeting cycle for each new Congress.

Today, Washington’s budget decisions are not aligned with the very principles the American people follow in their day-to-day lives to ensure fiscal discipline. The result is what we are seeing today: $19 trillion in debt, $100 trillion in future unfunded liabilities, and a budget that is no longer a governing document but a political document.

It is time to fix this broken budget process and hold Congress accountable for their fiscal decisions.

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 -  2018