Bush unveils government reform proposals

Republican presidential contender George W. Bush proposed shifting to a two-year federal budgeting process, pledged to speed the political appointments process and backed legislation to prevent government shutdowns in an address Thursday.

"Many Americans believe that Washington's way of doing things just isn't working, that government's purposes are too often forgotten, and opportunities too often squandered-resulting in too few results," Bush said in a speech in Knoxville, Tenn., the home state of Vice President Al Gore."

Specifically, Bush proposed to:

  • Create a biennial budgeting process, under which Congress would only adopt budgets every other year. The off-years would be used to allow congressional committees to conduct more vigorous oversight of federal programs.

    "If the discord in Washington never seems to end, this is partly because the budget process never seems to end," Bush said. "Lawmakers spend more than half of their time each year wrangling over budget resolutions, reconciliation bills and appropriations bills. And often, as many legislators will tell you, they've hardly had time to examine the bills before the vote is taken."

  • Enact legislation to prevent government shutdowns by guaranteeing that if agencies' appropriations bills are not passed by the start of the fiscal year on Oct. 1, they would continue to receive funding at their previous year's level or at the level requested by the President, whichever is lower.

    In the past, Bush said, "Americans have had to watch federal agencies close for business and national parks and monuments turn away visitors. These standoffs have undermined public confidence in government. ... Above and beyond the quarrels of the moment, the United States government has certain basic commitments, and those commitments must be kept."

  • Urge Congress to act on the next President's nominees within 60 days, regardless of which parties are in control of the House and Senate.
  • Create a commission to compile a list of pork-barrel spending projects, which would then be submitted to Congress for an up-or-down vote on the whole package.
  • Require a joint budget resolution, signed by the President, to set overall spending levels.
  • Seek a constitutionally acceptable line-item veto. Congress granted the President line-item veto authority in 1996, but it was overturned two years later.
Several key members of Congress have endorsed aspects of Bush's reform package. But in May, the House voted down a bill that included a two-year budgeting proposal and a mechanism to prevent shutdowns. Opponents said having only one shot at the budget every two years could result in less fiscal discipline and the ceding of power to the executive branch.

Bush's proposals are part of a larger effort to look at the management of the executive branch.

"We have looked at government reform for a substantial period with a group of experts drawn from state and local governments, as well as the federal government," Bush adviser Stephen Goldsmith told Government Executive. A key objective, he says, will be to take better advantage of the Internet and other technologies that can bypass "traditional, bureaucratic methods and allow citizens easier and more direct interaction with their government."

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