Key lawmakers say they want to deliver recommendations on how to fix Congress‘ broken budget process some time next month, far ahead of a November deadline and signaling their hopes of building bipartisan momentum.
One idea under discussion is to push back the start of the fiscal year, potentially from October to January, to give lawmakers more time to get their work done. Another idea would move the government to two-year budgets, which could push the most contentious spending fights to non-election years.
Rep. Steve Womack, Arkansas Republican and co-chairman of a special select committee on the budget process, says he wants to begin writing a draft in August.
“And then in September when we come back, meet and start perfecting that plan in hopes that before we ever break for the elections that we can get this to the leadership in a legislative form — get it on the floor of the House and the Senate,” he said, saying he’d like that to happen in September or early October.
“I’d like to do it before we go to the elections,” said Mr. Womack, who also is chairman of the House Budget Committee. “I think once we come back from Nov. 6, we’re going to be in a situation where [we’re] reorganizing, preparing for the year-end or the lame duck. Maybe it’ll take that long, but look, I don’t think it should.”
The select committee was created as part of Congress’s two-year budget deal in February. The 16-member panel is evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, and it will take a majority to approve any recommendation — meaning it will have to be a bipartisan idea.
The committee has held the five public meetings mandated by the deal, and members have been getting together privately to hash out ideas on how to get past the stopgap, crisis-driven budgeting that’s led to two brief shutdowns this year alone.
Staff for Rep. Nita Lowey, New York Democrat and the panel’s other co-chair, said much work remains and she wants to make sure everyone on the panel has input.
“However, if it proves possible to complete a bipartisan product before Congress breaks for the elections, there’s no reason not to proceed,” said a spokesperson for Ms. Lowey, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee.
Senators on the panel said this week they’re on board with Mr. Womack’s aspirational time frame.
“Given the progress we’ve made there really should be no reason why we couldn’t do that,” said Sen. David Perdue, Georgia Republican.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Rhode Island Democrat, said the last meeting members had was productive and they appear to honing in on a good framework.
“It may prove to be ambitious but I think it’s a worthy ambition,” he said. “There’s a real shot at being able to do something in that time frame and we should try.”
Members concede that the recommendations most likely to win bipartisan support on the panel could turn out to be relatively minor tweaks, but say they’re a step in the right direction and could prod lawmakers if they’re accompanied by real penalties if Congress doesn’t meet specific deadlines.
Congress moved the start of the budget year from July to October in the 1970s with a similar goal to give lawmakers more time, but that has done little to solve impasses.
Congress hasn’t met an April 15 deadline to pass a budget resolution in 15 years, and there’s no real penalty for blowing through it. Mr. Womack’s committee belatedly passed a 2019 budget plan this year, but it appears highly unlikely that the full Congress will pass one by October.
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi has said he’s working on a plan and can be ready to move forward if leadership calls on him to do so. But the Senate floor schedule later this month and into September is likely to be dominated by nominations and 2019 spending bills.
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