Time for Another Budget Commission, Budget Chair Enzi Says

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By Jonathan Nicholson

Sept. 19 — The chairman of the Senate Budget Committee endorsed the idea of another budget commission to tackle the government's chronic deficits, saying it could help push through major fiscal changes.

In an appearance at an event sponsored by the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) said such a panel might have to change the way it reported its recommendations compared to past commissions.

“We need to have a new budget commission, like the BRAC commission or Simpson-Bowles,” Enzi said, referring to the military base closure panel of the 1990s and the 2010 bipartisan presidential commission headed up by former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.) and former President Bill Clinton Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles.

While the Base Realignment and Closure commission process resulted in closing some unneeded military facilities by forcing Congress to vote on an unamendable list of closures, the Bowles-Simpson panel was unable to come to an agreement on a similar deficit-cutting plan, with opposition headed by the House Republican members of the panel.

In the years since Bowles-Simpson, smaller efforts at deficit reduction have been made, including the implementation of annual discretionary spending caps in 2011 and a tax increase on wealthy earners in 2012, but for the most part a “grand bargain” approach has been abandoned (See previous story, 09/09/16).

Vote on Pieces

Bowles-Simpson was originally planned to be made up of lawmakers only, but that approach failed to pass the Senate after some Republican co-sponsors, including Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) withdrew their support at the last minute (21 DER G-4, 2/3/10). Enzi said that disappointed him. Enzi said a new panel's recommendations might be more successful if they were considered in a more piecemeal approach.

“If they were able to break that down into pieces, I think there'd be more of a possibility of getting it through,” he said. “Then we could vote on it in pieces as well, but it would be an up-or-down vote. It wouldn't be an amendable vote. I think that could make some huge changes.”

Enzi said there was bipartisan support on his committee for other, smaller changes, such as requiring larger supermajorities for waiving large violations of the budget resolution. Many budget waivers currently require 60 votes, the same number needed to overcome a filibuster threat in the Senate.

‘Ambush Approach.'

Enzi also said there was support for getting rid of vote-a-rama, the marathon series of rapid-fire amendment votes that often lasts well into the morning on the last day of a budget resolution's floor debate.

“They're usually just political points being made and really have no relation to whether we're going to increase spending or decrease spending,” Enzi said (See previous story, 05/13/16). “We've agreed to eliminate that vote-a-rama. Out on the floor, it's an ambush approach because you don't know what's coming.”

In his prepared remarks, Enzi also endorsed two other budget process changes: setting up a budget concepts commission to look at the basic building blocks of the federal budget process, similar to a 1967 panel, and setting enforceable budget targets as part of the budget process.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jonathan Nicholson in Washington at jnicholson@bna.com.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Heather Rothman at hrothman@bna.com.

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