Senate Budget Blueprint Targets Retirement Backlog, Duplicative Reports

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va. Alex Brandon/AP

The Senate Budget Committee’s marathon two-day markup of a fiscal 2014 budget plan ended Thursday evening with approval, by 12-10, of a vision Democrats called “a balanced and responsible approach to our fiscal and economic challenges.”

The amended text now headed for a floor vote contains agency-oriented provisions to reduce the retirement processing backlog at the Office of Personnel Management, enhance transparency of spending and cut back on congressionally required reports considered duplicative.

All three amendments came from Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., who leads the budget panel’s Task Force on Government Performance.

By 22-0, the panel backed a “deficit-neutral” provision to help OPM reduce the retirement processing time (currently about a year) and backlog that stands at more than 41,000 cases. “In the coming years, OPM will continue to face an ever growing number of federal employees who will be eligible to retire, and we can and should do better in processing the benefits they have earned,” Warner said in a statement.

His work drew praise from conservative Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., who said, “If we reduce the backlog time, that reduces the workload in terms of time spent on each claim … and over time, it should actually reduce the cost of government.”

A second Warner amendment, approved by voice vote, calls for legislation to boost agency transparency by encouraging the expansion of websites and data standards informing the public about program spending. “It is appropriate that we acted on this amendment during Sunshine Week, which is designed to draw attention to the need for more open government,” Warner said. “Our financial management is in silos with outdated legacy information technology systems built upon incompatible terms and classifications.”

A third amendment, also cleared by voice vote, pushes legislation to eliminate or modify redundant congressionally mandate reports identified in a January OMB report as numbering 376 from 29 agencies. “I know the elimination of duplicate reports represents a relatively small amount of savings in relation to our total federal budget,” Warner said, “but if we cobble together enough of these commonsense savings, it adds up.”

Budget resolutions do not have the force of law, and the Senate’s version contains many provisions likely to spark opposition from the Republican-controlled House, which unveiled its own plan March 12.

“The Senate budget takes a very different approach than the plan proposed by House Republicans,” said Chairman Patty Murray, D-Wash. “Their budget doubles down on the policies the American people rejected last election. It would be devastating for the middle class and the economy, it would dismantle Medicare and the programs families depend on -- and it would do all that while protecting the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations from paying their fair share. The House Republican plan is anything but balanced, and it’s anything but fair.”

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., responded to the Senate plan on Wednesday by saying, “I’m glad Senate Democrats have written a budget, and I commend Sen. Murray for her hard work. …That said, Senate Democrats still have some work to do. Their budget never balances -- ever. It simply takes more from hardworking families to spend more in Washington. It ignores the drivers of our debt. It continues the raid on Medicare. And it imperils the health and retirement security our seniors need.”

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