Federal Budget Reform | Final Report Summary

Convergence Building a Better Budget Process

B3P released their final report in February 2018 which set out a set of shared principles for a better budget process, themes that guided the dialogue, and five consensus proposals for process reform.

The Foundations for Reform
The group agreed on a set of nine principles that a new process should encompass. They believe, among other things, that the process should cover all forms of spending and revenues and be completed on a predictable timeline. The process should be informed by high-quality and non-partisan information and should not tilt toward one ideological or policy outcome.

Key Themes

As the group considered various proposals for reform, several key themes coalesced that guided the group toward consensus:

    First, elections drive outcomes. The group saw the importance of better synchronizing key elements of the budget cycle with the electoral and governing cycle to generate more timely action.
    Second, credible information, provided at the right time, matters. The group agreed that the volume of fiscal information available to Congress and the voter is vast. However, the power of the data to encourage debate is diminished by the range of release times, the number of entities publishing those reports, and the unfamiliarity of this information to most of the American public.
    Third, effective budget institutions are crucial. The group emphasized the need for strong and stable institutions to provide Congress with appropriate and timely information. The budget reform acts of 1921 and 1974 both created institutions – the Congressional Budget Office, the Office of Management and Budget, and the Government Accountability Office — that have served the Congress and the American public well in a wide range of budget and fiscal matters over many decades.
    Fourth, new norms are needed to break bad habits. The group believes that new expectations need to be established to help Congress to act in a timely way on budgetary and fiscal matters following a process that is clear, simple, and achievable.

With the guiding foundations of the principles and themes, the group developed five consensus proposals for fixing the budget process:

    1. A Budget Action Plan—negotiated by the President and Congress at the beginning of a new Congress and enacted into law—to synchronize the budget cycle with the electoral cycle and to change expectations for the process. The plan would make certain key fiscal decisions – setting discretionary funding levels and adjusting the debt limit, for example – for a two-year period.
    2. A Fiscal State of the Nation Report, published every four years at a key point in the national election cycle, to make the federal budget more accessible to the American public and elevate the discourse about the country’s finances.
    3. A review of the performance of portfolios of federal programs that involve long-term or inter-generational commitments (e.g., retirement security, health coverage, education or national security). This review conducted by Congress, through the Government Accountability Office, would reinforce the importance of the long-term effects of budget decisions.

    4. Strengthening the Budget Committees by revising the membership rules and assigning responsibility to create new expectations for the budget process so that Congress and the public can expect more timely action on budget decisions.

    5. Investment in agencies that support the congressional budget process, including the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT), so these institutions can continue to provide high-quality and independent information the nation relies on in making budgetary choices.