Senate weighs biennial budget proposal

Senate weighs biennial budget proposal

While House members and senators expressed bipartisan desire to reform the annual budget process at Tuesday's joint hearing of the Senate Budget and Governmental Affairs committees, they also grappled with the usual House-Senate split over going to a biennial budget and appropriations cycle.

Rep. Jim Nussle, R-Iowa, a member of the House Budget Committee and co-author of the bipartisan House budget reform bill, told senators that biennial budgeting "would come up against some strong opposition in the House" and that "on the House Budget Committee you would not have a majority of support."

Nussle said House members generally oppose the idea because their terms are only two years, compared to senators' six years. Many appropriators in both chambers, chief among them Senate Appropriations Chairman Stevens, also oppose it out of concern it would lessen their committees' influence.

Nussle later said that while former House Appropriations Chairman Bob Livingston, R-La., who nearly became the speaker this year, was a strong opponent of a biennial cycle, Speaker Denny Hastert, R-Ill., "is more receptive" to the idea, and that he is optimistic that newly installed House Appropriations Chairman Don Young, R-Alaska, will be as well.

Young said Tuesday he supports the idea of putting Congress on a biennial rather than annual budget and appropriations cycle. "I think that has a lot of merit," Young said in an interview with CongressDaily and National Journal. Before coming to Congress, Young was in the Florida Legislature, which used biennial budgeting; he said he likes the two-cycle approach because it allows legislators to perform more oversight of the programs they fund in the second year of the cycle.

Nussle said he and Rep. Benjamin Cardin, D-Md., with whom he drafted the House proposal, will probably reintroduce their bill when the House returns from recess next week; he also plans to meet in the coming weeks with both Young and the leadership on budget reform and overall House budget priorities.

Senate Budget Chairman Pete Domenici, R-N.M., who has introduced biennial budgeting legislation as well as a comprehensive reform package, suggested bringing a group of senators to the House to discuss the idea, a suggestion Nussle welcomed.

Domenici, who also chairs the Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee, said: "I don't believe that appropriators, and I am one, should dictate the processes of this government. ... Under the current [annual] process, an inordinate amount of power and leverage is given to the executive branch."

Senate Commerce Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., a leading voice for comprehensive budget process changes, shared Domenici's assessment; McCain testified that because of Republicans' fear of repeating the 1995 government shutdown debacle, "Republicans have agreed to demands by the administration for additional spending that we otherwise never would have agreed to."

Domenici and McCain picked up some public support for their efforts from Senate Majority Leader Lott, who told a U.S. Chamber of Commerce breakfast Wednesday that he supports going to a biennial budget.

"Every year we have to pass a budget. Every year we have to pass 13 appropriations bills. Why? We ought to have at least biennial budgeting," he said.

Lott also said he would like to see changes made so that continuing resolutions automatically take effect when appropriations bills are not finished in time, and that legislative riders are prohibited on appropriations bills.

Other reform proposals senators covered Wednesday included tightening the definition of emergency spending and streamlining the Senate floor vote on the budget.