Practical, Politically Realistic Proposals to Improve the Often – Dysfunctional Federal Budget Process.
A grant from The Hewlett Foundation’s Madison Initiative provided most of the funding for the project,
supplemented by a grant from the Stuart Family Foundation.
In 2016, Convergence brought together 23 ideologically diverse stakeholders representing an array of interests for the Building a Better Budget Process Project (B3P) Dialogue to identify practical, politically realistic proposals to improve the often-dysfunctional federal budget process.
Each passing year brings new evidence of the need to repair the process for managing the $4 trillion U.S. budget. Budget resolutions and spending bills narrowly pass, often very late, with lukewarm promises of hammering out priorities in the following budgeting cycle. It has been more than 20 years since all appropriations bills were passed prior to the beginning of the fiscal year. With so many missed deadlines and insufficient attention paid to longer-term budget priorities and oversight, it is obvious the process needs to change.
A few themes emerged from the project:
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.
After 16 months and 14 meetings, we released the Convergence Building a Better Budget Process report at the first ever Better Budget Process Summit, sponsored by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.
The 2018 report outlined five recommendations to improve the transparency, predictability, and comprehensiveness of the budget process.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The proposals received considerable attention on Capitol Hill and were well-received by Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle.
Now, a companion resolution is being considered by the Senate Budget Committee. In addition, the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress is stewarding its other recommendations through Congress. Convergence continues to work with the Select Committee and other Members of Congress to provide additional information and resources on the Building a Better Budget Process recommendations.
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