by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
The special committee’s markup process, which began this week and will continue on Tuesday, has so far resulted in three amendments being added to the committee’s reform proposals: One would tinker slightly with the membership structure of the Senate Budget Committee; another clarifies that Congress can still pursue a reconciliation process each year even if it adopts biennial budgeting; and a third creates the option of a special “bipartisan budget resolution” in the Senate. These, too, are very modest ideas.
This modesty is understandable, especially given the structural constraints of this committee. But we should hope that this process shakes loose some greater will for a bigger transformation of the budget and appropriations process. Budgeting is central to what Congress does, and the dysfunction of the budget process is now central to the broader dysfunction of the Congress. In past eras of dysfunction, fundamental budget reform has been essential to reinvigorating Congress and reasserting its authority.
A bolder reform agenda geared to making Congress stronger could try to make the budget process more like legislative work (divided into small, discrete, concrete steps that call for bargaining over particulars) and less like executive work (consolidated into a single, large decision that calls for unity around abstractions). That would mean rethinking elements of the committee system, the work of “scorekeepers” (like the Congressional Budget Office), and even the distinction between authorizing and appropriating that now too often separates policy priorities from budgeting.