Former congressional budget leaders slam 'absolutely broke' budget process

Economy Buck 121523 AP Matt Slocum

Several former leaders of the House and Senate Budget committees criticized the current state of the congressional budget process on Wednesday in the wake of Congress’s repeated failure to adopt concurrent budget resolutions in recent years.    

“The budget process is absolutely broke, and it needs to be repaired,” said former Sen. Don Nickles (R-Okla.), who chaired the Senate Budget Committee from 2003 to 2005. 

“It’s unconscionable to think the United States government wouldn’t have a budget,” he added at an event hosted by The Hill and the Bipartisan Policy Center, marking the 50th anniversary of the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act.

The Congressional Budget Act, passed in 1974, stipulates that Congress pass a concurrent resolution, laying out its blueprint for the budget in April each year before moving forward with the appropriations process.

However, Congress has increasingly failed to adopt concurrent budget resolutions since the turn of the century, in the face of rising polarization.

Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who served as chairman of the House Budget Committee from 1989 to 1993, suggested that the current situation requires either strong leadership or a crisis.

“I think ultimately it may very well require crisis,” Panetta said Wednesday. “And that crisis is coming.” 

“We’ve got a $34 trillion, $35 trillion debt,” he continued. “We’re paying more interest now than defense, for god’s sake. And it’s going to keep going up. It’ll eat away our resources in this country, and ultimately it will undermine the economy.”

However, former Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.), who chaired the House Budget Committee between 2017 and 2023, questioned whether the process laid out by the Congressional Budget Act still makes sense.

Yarmuth suggested the top-line spending numbers might not be that different whether or not Congress ultimately adopts a concurrent resolution.  

“Recognizing the 50th anniversary [of the Congressional Budget Act] may be a real opportunity to step back and say, ‘What is the best process? Is what the Budget Act of ’74 prescribed the best process?’ And I’m not sure it is,” he said.

Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.), who currently serves as ranking member of the House Budget Committee, also said Wednesday he thinks Congress should “look at reasonable bipartisan reforms” to the process.

“We have seen increasingly in recent years a failure to pass appropriations on time, to even get the proposals out by the stated statuary dates,” Boyle said. 

“We have also seen the hyperpolarization within both major parties contribute to that dysfunction as it relates to the Budget Control Act and the budget process,” he added. “So, I do think it is time to look at reasonable bipartisan reforms to our budget process.” 

Congress last month passed sweeping legislation to fund the government, months after the initial deadline in October.

The passage of the fiscal 2024 government funding bills capped off a bruising months-long process for Congress, particularly House Republicans, as divides between various factions of the conference on spending and thorny policy areas like abortion dominated attention during the summer leading up to a historic ouster of the party’s leader, and thereafter.

House Republicans have since been eager to turn the page on government funding, as both chambers ramp up the annual appropriations process for fiscal 2025.

But negotiators have already acknowledged a funding stopgap of some kind will likely be necessary in September, when Congress faces its next shutdown deadline, as negotiators try to make ground with a late start hashing out funding for fiscal 2025 — all the while navigating election-year politics.

Aris Folley contributed.

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