Congress Fails to Take Even Modest Steps to Fix Budget Process

Congress Fails to Take Even Modest Steps to Fix Budget Process


The federal budget process is a mess and it’s likely going to stay that way for the foreseeable future, as a special bipartisan committee set up to improve the budget process failed on Thursday to approve even modest reforms.

Established by the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, the 16-member Joint Select Committee on Budget and Appropriations Process Reform has been meeting for months to fix a budget process that tends to veer from crisis to crisis. There are plenty of ideas for comprehensive reforms — examples include those offered by Brian Riedl, Stan Collender, the Bipartisan Policy Center and the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget — but lawmakers were unable to agree on anything beyond the possibility of moving to a biennial budget timeframe, and even that simple proposal failed to move forward in the failed vote Thursday.

Five Republicans and two Democrats on the committee voted yes, while three Republicans and two Democrats voted no, with four Democrats voting present. The rules required five yes votes from each side for the bill to advance. 

Politics played a role in the committee’s lack of progress. Co-chair Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) expressed concerns about the rules governing amendments to the bill as it moved through the Senate, and Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) said that the reforms didn’t go nearly far enough.

“The failure of the Joint Select Committee to pass even modest reforms is disappointing and emblematic of our broken political system,” CRFB’s Maya MacGuineas said Thursday. “It is discouraging that the JSC was unable to pass even the smallest of reforms. The possible looming government shutdown is a perfect example of why we need to fix the process.”

What comes next: Zach Moller of the CRFB tweeted, “I’ve worked on the [Joint Special Committee] effort for the past 9-10 months and this is a disappointing ending for the JSC. But budget process reform is still desperately needed. There’s a new Congress in January and I hope the cause will have new champions.”