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Appropriators Mount Defense Against Biennial Budgeting

By Erik Wasson, Bloomberg News

A proposal to switch to a two-year fiscal cycle is pitting House appropriators and Budget Committee members against a majority of House members, some of whom who have argued the current annual process is ineffective and wasteful.

The fight over two-year budgeting comes as the House embarks on a rewrite this year of the 1974 Budget Act, which governs the annual spending process.

Lawmakers representing both sides skirmished today at a Rules Legislative and Budget Process Subcommittee hearing on the two-year budget bill. The measure, H.R. 1610, is proposed by Wisconsin Republican Reid Ribble and has 231 co-sponsors, including Speaker Paul Ryan.

Ribble said that the annual process has never been followed as outlined in the 1974 law and that has lead to lengthy stopgap measures which leave agencies on autopilot, wasting money. He also said the annual process leads to a spike in spending in September given a "use it or lose it" mentality.

“Time is of the essence,” he said. “I urge you to promptly move to a markup.”

Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price of North Carolina called for a rewrite of the 1974 law during a November hearing. Budget Committee member Tom McClintock, a California Republican, told the Rules panel that he and other members of the Budget Committee are opposed to switching to a two-year cycle, which is favored by Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi of Wyoming.

"The Budget Committee believes that there needs to be total rewrite of the 1974 reform," McClintock said. He urged Rules to wait to act on any process changes until the Budget Committee acts.

No full committee hearing or markup has been set for the bill, and the Budget Committee and Oversight and Government Reform Committee share jurisdiction over the legislation.

Appropriators Oppose Change

Appropriations Labor HHS-Education Subcommittee Chairman Tom Cole of Oklahoma and Transportation-HUD Subcommittee ranking member David Price said the two-year proposal would transfer power to the president and the bureaucracy.

Price said that a biennial process, because it would involve twice as much money, would kick more decisions to congressional leaders. In between bills, agencies would demand rushed supplemental appropriations bills to fill gaps.

“Agencies are going to seek more reprogramming authority,” he said. He added that reprogramming is approved by committee cardinals without public scrutiny.

Cole suggested abolishing continuing resolutions to force Congress to enact full spending bills at the risk of a shutdown while limiting the ability to attach riders to spending bills.

“This leads to much more dysfunction that reaching a policy objective,” he said.

Rules Committee member Virginia Foxx, who also opposed the two-year process, said any budget overhaul legislation should create “pressure points” on the executive branch and could include reducing the number of appropriations bills from the 12 Congress must pass currently. The North Carolina Republican also recommended making permanent legislation that withholds pay from lawmakers if a budget is not passed on time. 

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