Senator Lankford Again Slams Broken Budget Process, Calls for Change

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WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) yesterday delivered a speech on the floor of the Senate to address the issues with the Senate’s broken budget process. Lankford stressed that the budget process needs to change to provide more transparency and focus on solutions that will proactively tackle major reforms through regular order, which will allow for meaningful debt reduction. Lankford has consistently encouraged a budget process that allows more Congressional oversight, eliminates budget gimmicks, and prevents government shutdowns. 

In February, after the President’s release of the Fiscal Year budget, Lankford also called for budget reforms. He also offered appropriations committee amendments to eliminate budget gimmicks this year, including the a commonly-used budget gimmick in the Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations bill

Lankford serves on the Appropriations Committee and chairs the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs and Federal Management. Last fall, Lankford identified specific debt-reduction options in the federal budget by releasing a federal government waste report, “Federal Fumbles: 100 ways the government dropped the ball,” which listed $105 billion in wasteful federal spending, and about $800 billion in negative regulatory impact to the economy. 


Mr. President, this is a long-term issue. This is not something new. I’m amazed at the number of times that I run into people in Oklahoma and say why can’t we seem to get the budget done now? What’s happened? I say let’s back up for a second. Since 1974, we’ve done a budget and done it correctly four times total. The budget act was created in 1974 right after Watergate to try to create this more transparent process. What they created was a process so incredibly difficult to work that it’s worked four times since 1974. We’ve only had two years since 1974 that we haven’t had a single C.R. That’s a continuing resolution. This body just passed another continuing resolution, meaning the appropriations process won’t be done on time again this year, and that was settled today. 

The issues that we face with budgeting is not new. It’s been 20 years since we’ve had no CR at all. This constant issue of putting the big budget issues off and trying to figure out how we’re going to navigate through the Senate procedures and get the budget done has to stop. And at some point we have to have a determination to say we can’t just keep saying next year this will improve, next year this will improve. We’re not going to get a better product until we get a better process. And we have a very bad process right now and we need to admit it’s a bad process. What I’m proud of is that there are multiple members of this body from the leadership of the Budget Committee through freshmen that are here, brand-new senators, that are all focused on the same thing. Let’s solve how we do budgeting and to actually get to a better product by improving the process. 

What do we have? Almost $20 trillion in debt and everyone argues about what we’re going to do on a few things to try to do management but no one is really talking about how we get us back to balance and pay off the debt. It’s a common conversation I have with people in Oklahoma. This conversation with people that say can we ever get this resolved? Is it too late? Americans believe on the whole nothing will get better in Washington, DC dealing with the budget, and their question is when and how does it get better? I wish I could give them a lot of hope on that. 

What I typically tell people, Mr. President, is that let’s just do a for instance. Right now let’s say the budget, the balanced budget piece that we have, if we took the balanced budget piece that we put out earlier this year and actually took ten years, chipped away at the deficit and in ten years chipped away at it and got back to a balance where we had no deficit that year, it was balanced, then let’s say the next year we actually had a $50 billion surplus. It would be a pretty good surplus. So we chip away in ten years, get to balance. The next year we have a $50 billion surplus. Mr. President, do you know how long it would take us to pay off our debt if we had a $50 billion surplus? If we had a $50 billion surplus every year for 460 years in a row, we would pay off our debt. 460 years in a row of $50 billion surpluses, and we can get on top of this. 

Everyone says that’s unreasonable, and I would say it’s certainly unreasonable if we don’t change the way we do process. It just continues to get worse. There are some basic things we can do. We can do budgeting every two years. And people may say how does that solve anything. That allows predictability and planning. It creates greater oversight. Right now we do this every single year and in the speed of what has to be done, how it has to be done, there’s very little oversight on our spending. We can actually put all the areas we have in spending all accountable every year. Right now there’s about 25% or so, 25% to 30% of our budget that we actually focus in on every year with the appropriations process. The rest of it’s on auto pilot. And it’s never touched until we get everything in front of everybody every year to be able to look at oversight we’re not going to solve big issues.

We’ve got to look at budget gimmicks. I’ve been at war with a budget gimmick called the chimp. It’s my favorite of the gimmicks. There are a lot of them out there. Changes in mandatory programs. Chimps. The changes in mandatory programs is a budget gimmick that’s out there that says we were planning to spend this much when we really weren’t, but on paper it said we were, but instead we said no we’re not going to spend that much this year, so we’ll spend it on something else. Guess what? The next year they come back to the exact same dollars again and say no, we’re planning this year to do it, but we’re really not, and so we’ll spend it on something else. So it just adds debt every year. And we’ll have billions of dollars in chimps built into our budget. And claim that the deficit is even lower than it is. It’s not. It’s just this budget gimmick, and in real dollars it makes it even bigger. 

We’ve got to deal with those budget gimmicks in there and to be able to take that away so that when the appropriations process is done, you get real numbers. The hardest thing to get in DC is the real number. So you’re going to deal with all these gimmicks that are out there to remove those. You get with a longer time period to be able to plan, create some certainty, but one of the key things that we have to have is an actual deadline. This town doesn’t function on anything other than deadlines and pressure points and when it’s time that it has to be resolved, we actually get it resolved. But if we don’t have to resolve it right now, this town just says tomorrow, we’ll get it done next week, next session. 

So the focus is how do we create those pressure points? How about a simple idea that says if we don’t get the budget done on time, the appropriations bills done on time, it goes to an automatic C.R. so we don’t have a government shutdown because government shutdowns waste money on the whole. So it automatically kicks in to last year’s budget amount. Here’s what changes: All the Members of Congress, our budget, our staff for how we function, our operating expenses, all of our committees and the Executive Office of the White House—that’s the three groups, the House, Senate and the White House—all of our budgets drop immediately let’s say 4 percent, 5 percent, 6 percent the first day. And that does that for 30 days. Then if you still don’t have the appropriations process, it cuts again another big percentage. It puts the pressure where the pressure needs to be. 

It’s not the fault of the agencies or the American people the job wasn’t done. It lies squarely in the House, the Senate and the White House and our negotiations not getting it done on time. It’s a simple mechanism to say if the task has not been done, put the pressure where the pressure needs to be. The cuts in the House, in the Senate, and on the White House. And puts all of us to the table and get it resolved. The goal is to do appropriations in a transparent process so the American people can see how their money is being spent and to be able to do it wisely and to be able to create a process where you can actually solve the problem. Currently we don’t have a process that solves the problem. 

Now this magically doesn’t balance our budget. It still takes hard decisions, but at least creates a format where we could solve the problem. Right now we don’t even have that. So step one, like an A.A. group, let’s at least admit there’s a problem. There is a problem. Step two, let’s get to work on fixing it and actually resolve the process and then let’s actually get to work balancing this and paying off our debt. Mr. President, I appreciate the opportunity to be able to talk about this.