Budget reform efforts gain momentum on Hill

Budget reform efforts gain momentum on Hill

The fiscal 2000 congressional budget resolution may be the main topic of debate on Capitol Hill when Congress reconvenes this week, but momentum is also building behind the quieter issue of budget process reform-which could have a more far-reaching impact on the federal budget.

On the House side, the co-chairmen of last year's bipartisan budget process reform task force-Reps. Jim Nussle, R-Iowa, and Benjamin Cardin, D-Md.-plan to reintroduce their bill next week, cosponsored by House Rules Legislative and Budget Process Subcommittee Chairman Porter Goss, R-Fla.

The bill has strong support from both sides of the aisle and among various ideological factions. Last year's version had the backing of a Conservative Action Team member, Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas; a moderate Tuesday Group member, Rep. Michael Castle, R-Del.; and a conservative Blue Dog Democrat, Rep. Charles Stenholm of Texas, among others.

The tentative schedule for moving the bill anticipates hearings after House consideration of the budget resolution, with floor action after a final congressional budget resolution is adopted-but before the fiscal 2000 appropriations bills hit the floor this summer.

The bill includes provisions to: allow tax cuts without offsets if the government is running a surplus that does not include Social Security revenues; create a reserve fund for narrowly defined emergency spending needs; provide for automatic continuing appropriations at the current level for spending bills not passed before the start of the new fiscal year; convert the budget resolution from a concurrent resolution to a joint resolution requiring the President's signature; require greater congressional oversight of government spending; and use budgeting methods that reflect the long-term costs of proposed legislation.

On the Senate side, Budget Committee Chairman Pete Domenici, R-N.M., has introduced his own legislation with the support of his leadership. Although the House took the lead on the issue last year, the omnibus appropriations bill Congress passed last year generated greater urgency for the issue in the Senate.

Domenici dropped two bills, one solely to switch to a biennial budgeting process, and a second, more comprehensive measure that includes biennial budgeting language. The larger bill also would subject emergency spending proposals to a 60-vote point of order; allow tax cuts to be paid for out of a non-Social Security surplus; provide for an automatic continuing resolution at the lower of either the president's request or current appropriated level; and streamline the process of voting on budget measures.

The biennial budgeting bill enjoys the support of both Governmental Affairs Chairman Thompson and ranking member Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn. The committee, which shares jurisdiction with the Senate Budget panel, could mark up both of Domenici's bills the first week of March, according to a GOP leadership source.