Chairmen See Need for Budget Revamp, but Far Apart on Details

By Jonathan Nicholson

April 25 — House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-Ga.) and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) want to overhaul the federal budget process, and both say they are working on bills to do so. But in recent comments, the two appear to have significant differences in how to approach the issue.

Price in a speech April 18 laid out a handful of basic issues he said need to be dealt with in any effort to revamp the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control of 1974 (Pub. L. No. 93-344), the law that set out the current budget process. Enzi, who is set to have his committee's fourth hearing on the issue in recent weeks April 27, talked with reporters April 20 about where his effort stands.

On the fundamental issue of when to attempt to move legislation, the two chairmen have taken vastly different stances. Enzi has said he sees the final year of Barack Obama's presidency, and the attendant uncertainty over which party will win the White House in November, as a reason to try to bring something to the Senate floor.

“We'll be working while they're doing the appropriations process to come up with a bill that will be bipartisan. This is the year that we can do it because nobody knows who the president's going to be and nobody knows who the majority's going to be, so we both have to be reasonable,” Enzi said.

He said he hoped to have a markup by the end of May but would wait until after appropriations bills are considered to seek floor consideration of a budget process bill.

Price Doubts Moving in 2016

Price, on the other hand, has said he does not anticipate trying to move legislation until after Obama has left office.

“I think we'll complete the work this year. I doubt we'll move it this year because I don't hold out any hope that this president would be supportive of the kind of responsible budget process reform that we believe ought to be put in place,” Price told reporters after his speech April 18.

That divergent approach has also spilled over into how comprehensive any legislation should be. Price has often talked of the need to completely overhaul the 1974 law, and in his speech he touched on at least eight specific areas that could be addressed.

Those areas ranged from sweeping—what kind of role the president should play in the development of the budget and what kind of consideration should be given to mandatory spending programs that now make up the bulk of federal spending—to more technical in nature, such as whether the spending baseline used for measuring the effects of proposed policies should assume current policy or current law.

Enzi, by contrast, said he is willing to take a more gradualist approach.

“Around here, the difficulty is getting time on the floor to do anything. So if we have reform, whatever we're going to do, I'd prefer to do step by step. And what we'll do is bite off as much as we can as a first step,” he said.

Enzi has also kept what he favors closer to the vest, in part, he says, to help rally bipartisan support for what will eventually emerge from his committee.

“I'm listening to every idea that anybody has given me, whether it's here or personally,” Enzi said. “I'm still collecting the ideas, and I'm pleased that they're putting out the ideas. And if I start signing on to ideas, it'll be like I'm eliminating other ones. I'm not going to do that.”

Shared Concern on Authorizations

There is an area where both Price and Enzi appear to share a concern: unauthorized appropriations. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office in January estimated appropriators gave $310 billion in appropriations in fiscal 2016 for programs whose statutory authorizations had expired or could not be identified. Enzi said his own budget plan would have used savings from some unauthorized programs to reach balance with in 10 years.

Price in his speech also said the issue needed to be looked at.

“We've got a process right now where the majority of nondefense discretionary spending—over $300 billion each year—is unauthorized,” he said. “That means that the committees in the Congress have not said to the appropriators, ‘You ought to spend money on this.'” 

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