Co-Chair Lowey's Opening Remarks at Joint Select Committee Markup
As prepared for delivery during today's markup:
First, I’d like to thank all our Members for their thoughtful work on this committee.
Throughout our hearings and meetings, I’ve heard many criticisms about the budget process, including the consequences of appropriations not enacted on time, threats of shutdowns and other crises, and failure to adequately address our long-term fiscal challenges. But budget rules and procedures aren’t the root cause of these problems. Rather, the root causes lie in deep divisions over policy, made worse by intense partisanship and polarization.
As we've seen this year, solutions are possible within the existing framework. This year, a number of appropriations were passed on time, including the three largest bills, because controversial and partisan provisions were dropped and spending levels allowed for reaching workable agreements, combined with some innovative combining of bills.
However, some budget process changes could be helpful. The proposal Co-Chair Womack and I put forth as a vehicle to begin this markup shifts the budget resolution to a biennial schedule, which could shorten the process in the second year and help get appropriations done faster.
I except we’ll see some amendments today proposing other changes. As we consider them, we should ensure that current and proposed budget rules don’t make it easier to worsen our fiscal problems.
The budget reconciliation process allows certain legislation to avoid filibusters in the Senate. In the past it’s been used to enact major deficit-reduction packages. But since 2001 these special rules have been repeatedly used to facilitate deficit-increasing tax cuts. We should stop that, by restoring the rule in place from 2007 to 2011 that made this special treatment available only for deficit-reducing legislation.
We’ve heard a lot of valid concern about appropriations being enacted late. Right now, the biggest cause of that are the caps imposed by the Budget Control Act of 2011. Those caps were originally set at unworkably low levels, and Congress has been adjusting them upward two years at a time. As a result, every other year the appropriations process is stuck spinning its wheels while Congress and the White House negotiate another two-year cap agreement. We’d be far better off by just eliminating those caps and going back to having the budget resolution set the top line for appropriations.
And there’s the debt ceiling. That law serves no useful purpose, as it operates only after spending and tax decisions have been made. But it does create opportunities for brinksmanship that threaten our nation’s credit rating and the health of our economy. There’s a good case for simply repealing it. At a minimum we need more regularized procedures to adjust the ceiling, instead of the periodic crises we have now.
I look forward to discussing these and other issues in the course of our markup today.