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Senator Lankford Urges Colleagues to Make Significant Reforms to the Budget and Appropriations Process

WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today delivered a speech on the Senate floor about his work on the Joint Select Committee on Budget and Appropriations Process Reform and the Committee’s discussion and votes to finalize recommendations to Congress for ways to improve the inefficient federal and appropriations process.

The Joint Select Committee was formed under the Bipartisan Budget Act which passed in February 2018.  Under the law, the Joint Select Committee was required to hold public hearings and vote on their findings and legislative recommendations no later than November 30, 2018, and will dissolve by December 31, 2018. The panel includes 16 bipartisan members divided equally between the House and Senate.

Lankford also serves on the Senate Committee on Appropriations, which has jurisdiction over all discretionary spending in the Senate. Lankford sits on six subcommittees of the Committee on Appropriations including Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies; Energy and Water Development; Homeland Security; Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies; and State-Foreign Operations, and Related Programs.  He serves as the Chairman of the Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee.


(Start Time 00:39): Starting in April, these 16 Members of Congress started to meet with these instructions, ‘To significantly reform the budget appropriations process.’ The idea was simple. We’re getting a bad budget product, we probably need to look at the budget process and to be able to find out what’s happening with the process. You see, this process that we have was started in 1974, right after Watergate, Congress created this new process with a budget, with authorizing bills, with appropriating bills, and it would all work together for great transparency. It was a great plan on paper. But since 1974, it has only worked four times. Four times. And year after year, Americans keep saying the same thing: ‘Why isn’t the budget working again? Why is everything climbing?’ And every year Congress says the same thing, we’ll fix it next year, next year, next year, next year. At some point we have to admit it’s a bad process and we’re not going to get a better product out of it. We have to be able to fix that process.

(Start Time 02:47): So far, the only agreements to do significant reform, remember that’s the mandate, the only agreements that have been set so far have been to do budgets every two years rather than every year but still keep reconciliation and appropriation every year, change the membership of the Senate Budget Committee, and then to add a new optional bipartisan budget pathway in case some future Congress has lightning strike and they want to be able to try it. That’s the only agreement that we’ve had so far. I don’t know if that sounds like significant budget reform to you, but it doesn’t to me.

(Start Time 05:35): When people ask the question, ‘why is the debt increasing suddenly?’ and they look at things like the tax bill and say, ‘Is it the tax bill?’ No, it’s not the tax bill from last year. In fact, the tax bill from last year and the tax changes that were made for this year, there’s actually more revenue coming into the federal Treasury this year after the tax changes than there were last year. Let me run that by you again. Everyone seems to want to blame the tax bill on the increasing debt and deficit. There’s more revenue coming to the Treasury this year than last year even after the tax cut because the tax cut spurred economic activity, more people have jobs, more people are paying taxes, more people are making more money, they are paying additional taxes. Even with the cut, more revenue is coming in. It is not about the tax cut. It is about a skyrocketing interest on a $21 trillion debt. And there’s nothing we can do about that other than begin to address it seriously.

(Start Time 07:19): So let me lay out some of the options I do think fix this. What are some of the hard choices? The first thing that I heard over and over and over again in this budget reform process is that we need to get to a bipartisan process, and I agree. Republicans and Democrats are going to have to look at the debt and deficit and work together…Here’s the simple solution. If you want to avoid government shutdowns, if you want to end all of the end of the year fighting, if you want to make budgeting an actual bipartisan process, there’s a simple solution. Make the budget a law. I know that may sound overly simplistic to people outside the body. And many people may think the budget is already a law. But it is not. It isn’t in law because then you can create partisan documents and debate it and hash it around for a full year, and then go fight at the very end of the year before the government shutdown happens when there’s lots of pressure.  The simple way to resolve this at the going up is to make the fight about the budget at the beginning of the year, long before there is a discussion of government shutdowns.

(Start Time 11:10): Basically, we have 12 different bills set aside for spending. We never have a single bill set aside for saving. Let me run that past us again. There is no plan for a bill that is set aside for savings. One of the things I’ve recommended to make the budget a law to force everyone to have the fight early rather than late, but to add a 13th bill. Do our 12 appropriations bills, but the 13th bill be a bill that is set aside every session of Congress that is focused on what are we going to save? Forcing Congress every session to have to stop and have the debate. How are we going to save money? What are we going to do? Each Congress can decide how much they want to save. But every Congress has to work a little bit on this.

(Start Time 15:00): How about shifting our budgeting and our whole process to the calendar year rather than the fiscal year. Many Americans don’t know that Congress runs from October 1 until September 30. Well, guess what? It’s the middle of November right now. Our appropriations are not done for this year. They’re not done for last year. We’ve carried them over on something called a continuing resolution, or which lay people say is a CR, just like was done the year before, just like was done the year before, just like was done the year before. You see, Congress actually functions on the calendar year, but we pretend to function on a fiscal year. But it guarantees that every October, November, December, we’ve got budget chaos as we’re trying to figure out how to be able to run the system.