Panel Ponders Budget Changes

Members of a newly formed budget reform task force appear united on one central theme: The budget process is broken, but they are not sure how they want to fix it.

"I'm not going to commit myself to a specific platform," Rep. John Sununu, R-N.H., a member of the task force, said in an interview, echoing comments made by several task force members.

House Budget Chairman John Kasich, R-Ohio, recently appointed several House members to study the budget process and how it might be changed. Members said the Budget Act was written during a time of budget deficits, adding it might need to be updated in times of surpluses.

Another task force member, Rep. Benjamin Cardin, D-Md., said he expects the panel to explore a "whole host of issues." He warned, however, that he does not like the idea of relaxing budget rules "in one area." Republicans in recent weeks have said they believe the budget rules are too strict and that surpluses and discretionary spending cuts should be permitted to be used to help fund tax cuts. "I think the budget rules are rigid and they're there for discipline," Cardin said, adding they were put in place to ensure that provisions that cost the federal government in one area are paid for in another area. "We don't want to be a cover for one specific thing," he said in discussing the task force's work.

In announcing the new group, the chairman of the task force, Rep. Jim Nussle, R-Iowa, said budget rules should ensure the budget is balanced, reverse any bias that exists against spending cuts, control entitlement programs and prevent government shutdowns.

Rep. David Minge, D-Minn., who serves on the task force, said he is concerned current budget rules allow use of the Social Security trust fund in budget calculations. "I am concerned about the way Congress and the administration continue to mask the true size of the federal deficit by refusing to acknowledge the raiding of the Social Security trust fund," Minge said.

Sununu said while he will not commit himself now to one reform plan, he expects the group to also discuss the possibility of making the annual budget resolution binding. He said he hopes the task force can develop budget reform legislation in time to consider it this year and that any solution should be bipartisan.

"It's not a partisan issue to want a process that ensures fiscal responsibility," he said.

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