Senator David Perdue (R-GA) has proposed the Fix Funding First Act, a bold bill which seeks to reform the budgeting process for the federal government.
The skyrocketing national debt continues to eat up a higher and higher percentage of our nation’s GDP. Perdue’s bill is a good first step in getting federal spending under control by fixing some of the underlying problems with Congress’ flawed spending and appropriations process.
The budget process has problems at every step. Each year, Congress is required to pass a budget resolution – a non-binding, visionary document which outlines spending and tax priorities for the fiscal year. Despite not having the force of law behind them, Congress often fails to pass budget resolutions entirely. Congress has failed to pass a budget resolution at all in seven of the previous eight fiscal years.
Congress also often fails to pass its twelve annual appropriations bills. This process is supposed to be completed by September 30th, however this deadline is rarely, if ever, met. In fact, Congress failed to pass any of its 12 appropriations bills from 2011 – 2016. This failure forces Congress to take up Continuing Resolutions (CRs), bills which provide temporary funding to federal agencies based on spending levels of the previous fiscal year. Since 1977, Congress has averaged 4.6 CRs per year; these ‘stop-gap’ measures reduce certainty in appropriate funding for government agencies and continually push spending deadlines further and further back.
This process has also led Congress to delegate federal spending through vast 1,000+ page ‘omnibus’ bills. These bills package together what are supposed to be the 12 separate appropriations bills into one big piece of legislation, and are often released with practically no time for review or debate. For instance, the 1,200-page omnibus bill passed earlier this year was released less than 24 hours before it was voted on. This comically broken system makes it impossible to get federal spending under control, because legislators would rather avoid budget showdowns than get serious about reducing spending.
Perdue’s bill highlights five areas of practical reform to overhaul the federal spending process. They are changing the fiscal year, transitioning to a two-year 302a allocation schedule for top-line spending, making funding agreements joint resolutions, setting milestones with consequences, and reforming the budget committee.
Fiscal Year Change
The Funding First Act would shift fiscal years to match the calendar year. The government’s current fiscal year begins on October 1 and ends on September 31; Perdue’s bill would shift this to a January 1 – December 31 schedule.
This is a simple yet smart change which would give Congress plenty of time to deal with the federal budget and avoid the all-to-often ‘vote-o-ramas’ we see out of Congress. The current fiscal year calendar has shown the virtual impossibility of the Senate moving quickly enough to meet spending deadlines. After the April 15th budget resolution deadline, which is rarely met itself, the Senate would need to begin working on the 12 appropriations bills in mid-May to meet the October 1 deadline; this doesn’t happen. This provision of the bill is an easy, common sense approach to the issue.
Biennial 302a Allocations
Perdue’s proposal would only require Congress to set top-line-spending parameters every two years. Currently, Congress is required to set its top-line budget numbers every year via 302a allocations; then, 302b allocations break spending down into the 12 appropriations subcommittees. As discussed previously, Congress almost never meets its April 15th top-line spending milestone, and in recent years has abandoned passing a budget resolution all together. Lengthening the timeline for this process will give Congress more time to figure out 302a allocations, which will give a more solid framework for overall spending.
Make the Funding Agreement a Law
The bill would require funding agreements to be joint-resolutions, additionally requiring the signature of the president. This gives appropriation bills “teeth” by backing them with the force of law, which budget resolutions currently lack. This, on top of the two-year window for top line spending, would force Congress to more seriously consider its spending levels.
Deadlines with Consequences
One of the biggest changes the Fix Funding First Act makes is its new system of deadlines and accompanying consequences.
Under the legislation, 302a allocations must be ready by the Friday before President’s Day in odd-numbered, non-election years. Moving forward, the bill requires 25% of appropriations to be prepared by the Friday before Easter. From there, 50% must be ready by the Friday before Memorial Day, 75% by the Friday before the 4th of July, and all appropriations must be prepared by July 31. All appropriations bills must be signed by September 30. Additionally, the president is required to submit a budget proposal by November 15.
If 302a allocations are not passed on time, the spending limits from the previous period will go into effect for the next two years. Additionally, the bill eliminates funding and recess if milestones are not being met. Finally, Congressional funding/pay will be removed if spending is not complete by December 31.
Repurposed Budget Committee
Perdue also proposes overhauling the Senate Budget Committee. Under the new law, this committee would be tasked with producing a 5-year bipartisan strategic plan every two years. The plan will include a target for the ratio of the public debt-to-GDP, federal revenue, discretionary spending, and mandatory spending.
Senator Perdue hasn’t stopped with the Fix Funding First Act. He has also proposed switching mandatory spending programs to discretionary if they run out of their trust funds, as well as realigning policy committees and appropriations subcommittees so they have matching jurisdiction.
You’ll be hard pressed to find anyone who doesn’t think Washington’s spending is dysfunctional. The national debt continues to soar without end in sight, and Congress finds itself gripped in budget shutdowns more and more frequently. Senator Perdue’s proposal brings bold and conservative reforms to Washington’s budget process at a time when the country needs it most. The Fix Funding First Act should be supported by the rest of Congress in order to fix the budget mess.