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Senator Lankford Urges For Real Reforms to Budget Process

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WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today spoke on the Senate Floor to outline solutions to reform the current budget process that was put in place in the 1970s but has only worked four times. During the speech, Lankford addressed the issues with the budget process and how to fix it. Last week, Lankford attended the first meeting of the Joint Select Committee on Budget and Appropriations Process Reform, which is a bi-partisan, bi-cameral panel tasked with proposing a set of solutions to significantly overhaul the budget and appropriations process for the better. 

Lankford has continually advocated for budget reforms since his time in the House. In 2016, Lankford proposed budgeting changes, government shutdown prevention incentives, and the elimination of budgeting gimmicks. Since 2015, Lankford also introduced an annual government waste report called Federal Fumbles: 100 Ways the Government Dropped the Ball, which identifies examples of waste and solutions to fix the problem. 

Excerpts: 

On the history current budget process:

Since 1986, there have been 22 omnibus Appropriation bills. Now, people may ask what is that? Well, by law, Congress is to do 12 appropriation bills. Each part of that has a section of the budget. You pass each one of those stand alone. They go through committees, they go through first subcommittee, then committee, then to the full floor, and then they pass. But 17 times since 1998 and 22 times since 1986, all of those bills were just looped together to make one giant document, the 43-pound document that president Reagan dropped in 1988. 

On the problem with the current process: 

What’s going wrong? Because we have another one of those omnibus bills next week. Where all of the Appropriation bills are all looped together to try to simplify the process but to actually provide even less transparency. Why are we doing this and how did we get here? The short story is there is the Budget Control Act of 1974… The 1974 Budget Act tried to create more transparency and provide greater leadership for Congress. Out of that was born this Budget Act but was also born the House and Senate Budget Committees and also the Congressional Budget Office. All those things were to create more input and they create a system where each year the President would create a budget and would submit that budget to Congress, and then that budget would lead to authorizing bills from the different committees and then from the authorizing, it would lead to appropriation bills and final passage. Well, how is that working for us? It’s not. It created a process so complicated and so slow, although it makes sense on paper, in legislative language, it doesn’t actually work here, and it pushes us into what’s called Continuing Resolutions or as commonly thrown around here, CRs. Every year since 1995, Congress has had at least one CR one continuing resolution. That is taking last year’s Appropriation bills, just changing the date on it and moving it over. No strategic planning, nothing. That’s a problem for us. The budget process itself has broken down and has fallen into omnibus spending bills with 12 bills all combined. We failed to be able to get budget bills done, some years at all…. Finally, we’ve only passed all Appropriations bills four times in the last 44 years. We have a major problem with the way we do budgeting.

On solutions to fix the current budget process: 

How do we get out of this? Well, there was a bipartisan, bicameral committee that was put together. They met for the first time last week. There are 16 total of us; eight Democrats, eight Republicans. Eight from the Senate, eight from the House. And our mission is to be able to revise the way we do budgeting… Now, this committee itself is designed in such a way to be able to take out the partisanship not just from equal numbers from both sides. The agreement is if we don’t have a majority of Democrats and majority of Republicans signed off on the final proposal, we won’t bring it to the floor. But if we do, we hope to be able to fix the budget process itself. The budget process is set up to create gimmicks in the budgeting rather than fix them. We have a ten-year budget window and there are all these gimmicks created to try to move spending outside the ten-year budget window to make it look like things will balance when they won’t. 20 states budget every two years. It gives budget certainty for 24 months. We should get that. That helps our economy. That helps our businesses. That helps our agencies. That helps in contracting. That helps us avoid these continuing resolutions if we can actually do budgeting in two-year cycles. I’d like us to get out of the perpetual focus on government shutdowns and the countdown clocks that.

On the debt limit: 

We should be able to reform the way we do debt limits. We’re the only country in the world that does this. We’ve had some kind of debt limits since the 1920’s actually, but originally when it went into the form that it’s in now in the late 1930’s, it was established as a way to be able to protect us from adding more debt, and it did work for decades. It has not for decades. It’s just been another fiscal cliff out there that’s not actually resolved anything. We’ve got to either fix that so it does what it’s accomplished to do or take it away. But we can’t destabilize international economies because we can’t get our job done here. We’ve got to be able to have some sort of focus on both revenue and spending. We should deal with real consequences when we don’t get things done on time here. We’ve got to build internal processes here that actually get things done. And we’ve got to pay attention to $20 trillion and growing in national debt. These are things that we can get done, but they won’t get done if we don’t actually fix the process because there’s no moment to actually get the big things and the hard things done. 

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