Unformatted text preview: 78 The Politics of Public Budgeting HT) Level Reform Proposals , 3 _ as clear that the federal budget was close to balance after _,
decades of deﬁcits, Many cheered the contribution of the budget process, ~
revised in 1990, to ﬁnally eliminating the deﬁcit. But some in Congress were
still frustrated with the budget process. The Speaker of the House, a ' Republican, created a task force to come up with budget reform proposals
that would advance the Republican agenda and “enhance our common '_
goals of controlling spending, reducing the debt, and cutting taxes.” Thsk' ' '
force members argued, “Sensible budget process changes can greatly
improve our ability to advance our legislative agenda and to build on the
success of the Balanced Budget Actof 1997.” ‘ One recommendation was to enforce the spending caps in the budget by
requiring a two-thirds vote to exceed them; the reguirement would also g
' apply to supplemental appropriations. ,, ,
A second recommendation was an automatic continuing resolution, at _ l
a hard— freeze level. Congress uses continuing resolutions when members
cannot agree to pass the regular appropriations bills on time; while
Congress is working out its disagreements, it usually passes a temporary '
budget law to keep the government open. Such legislation is usually classi-
ﬁed as “must—pass” because without it, the government shuts down. There ‘
3is great temptation, therefore, to put a variety of riders in the continuing _
resolution, Rep; Christopher Cox argued that if the continuing resolution ,' '
, were automatic, rather than discretionary, there would be no threat of clos- ' L
ing downthe government and hence no swollen must—pass legislation. What I
, Cox did not say was that such a feature would also encourage conservatives
desiring lower spending to hold up the budget, with the idea that a hard
‘ freeze would then be put in place instead of a new, more expensive budget. ,
The proposals included an end to “baseline budgeting,” or considering" _, ‘
budget increases and decreases compared to a baseline that includes infla- ' ‘
tio‘n. Since the early 19805, the federal government has used a ‘current ser~ ‘ :
vices” estimate ’as a baseline, ﬁguring what it would cost next year to provide -
this year’s level ofservices and comparing proposals for new spending to that 'i
estimate. Conservatives objected that the constant services baseline built in ‘
inﬂation in uses, pushing up the budget The Speaker’s task force and other i , i
anted to eliminate the“ current services’ ’baseline, substitute I, ' a different one thatwould assume that agencies were cut back each year by ' the level of inﬂation, and then advance or retreat from that position The result would build' in a bias toward decreasing spending every year '
The Republicans also wanted the budget process changed so that it ' V ’ would be’e‘asier to reduce taxes. it was difﬁcult to reduce taxes when the i
‘ budget process emphasized balance because every cut in revenue had to be 7 (continued)? ' Ch a a HEN ﬁ' er Q, The Politics of Proczss 79 “offset by reductions in spending or increases in revenue elsewhe proposal was to eliminate the requirement that tax’cuts be speciﬁcal y, , set. In other words, task force members wanted to make it less clear what would have to be cut to pay for tax reductions or who would have to pay for
them. Undoubtedly such changes would make it easier to cut taxation.
Perhaps most dramatically, the task force recommended the eliminatiOn . i _ of all entitlements other than Social Security, making them instead subject
3-, to annual appropriations. Entitlements are payments that go to all those eli- gible, based on criteria such as age, income, or unemployment status. The
cost to the federal government of such entitlements goes up and down with the economy and the number of people in need. It would be substantially easier to cut back the entitlement programs if they were annually appro- , priated rather than permanently authorized and automatically funded. It is easy to see how these budget process proposals would make it easier ‘ “to reduce taxes and cut federal government expenditures. They would change the present bias toward growth by building in a bias toward shrink.
ing the federal govemment—all by changing the rules of the budget process. After ﬁguring out what process reforms would help them achieve their
agenda and uncovering the areas of consensus within the Republican ranks i for such changes, the next step was to introduce legislation embodying these
, understandings. The result was a bill, the Comprehensive Budget Process,
1,, Reform Act of 1999, called the Nussle-Cardin-Goss Budget Process Bill. In
[1" some ways, it went beyond the suggestions of the Speaker’s task force, but
i . all the proposals were in the same direction. The liberal Center for Budget . and Policy Priorities called attention to a number of features of this bill and how they would work. In a sign—on letter, the center argued that Congress ,_ should reject the proposals: H. R. 853 would both weaken ﬁscal discipline—by effectively jetti-
soning the pay-as- you— go rules—and largely abandon a budget
process that has helped produce budget surpluses for the ﬁrst time in : . many years. It paves the way for sweeping tax cuts at the expense of other important needs. We urge you not to support this bill. L The legislation did not pass. I L , . Prepared testimony of Rep Christopher Cox before the House Budget
' ' Committee, Subcommittee on Budget Process Reform, June 18, 1998; _
‘ see also John F. Oogan, Timothy Muris, and Allen Schick, The Budget Puule:
Understanding Federal Spending (Palo Alto, Calif: Stanford University Press,
. g 1994), esp. chap. 3, “The Uses and Abuses of Budget Baselines," by Tim '
‘ Muris; and Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Concerns Regardingthe
« Nussle-Cardin— Goss Budget Process Bill, ” May 14, 1999 www.cbpp. org, and
l the related sign-on letter urging ovDosition to the bill ’ ...
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