Visclosky testifies that Congress lacks discipline in spending and deficit reduction

Chesterton Tribune

U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-1st, testified on Wednesday before the Joint Select Committee on Budget and Appropriations Process Reform.

Excerpts from his testimony:

“As the Ranking Member on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense and a long-time member of the Subcommittee on Energy and Water, my colleagues have heard me go on for some length describing my concerns that Congress has become unable to enact appropriations bills anywhere close to the start of the fiscal year.

“However, I do not believe this means our budget and appropriations process is broken. Instead, it shows what happens when we avoid making decisions in a disciplined fashion as allowed under current House rules. We continue to defer action because some of my colleagues don’t want to make tough choices and others simply scorn those in the public service.

“Today, special procedures, budget gimmicks, and political theater are used to advance partisan goals instead of engaging in honest debate and difficult compromise. Further, we consume ourselves in temporarily putting aside misguided laws like the Budget Control Act (BCA). Multiple Congresses have somehow managed to alleviate the BCA caps for seven of its eight years, but those fixes only occurred after severe disruption. The penalties of not alleviating the caps, namely government shutdowns and sequestration, have proven to be ineffective in keeping our discipline and timeliness. Unless another BCA fix is crafted, we will see a major reduction in discretionary funding in fiscal years 2020 and 2021. Rather than permanently fix the terrible BCA, we have created a ‘new normal’ of gridlock and disruptive temporary measures, like continuing resolutions (CRs), because we are so short-sighted and eager for political wins.

“I take this manufactured unpredictability very seriously. We know this is a major obstacle to the effective planning and execution of vital programs, not only for our federal agencies, but also for our state, private sector, and international partners.

“Some would point to the use of 2-year deals, like the multiple Bipartisan Budget Acts of the past half-decade, as proof that the annual budget and appropriations process should transition to a 2-year cycle. However, I would argue that moving to a biennial budget does not actually fix the root cause of our unpredictable funding timelines, but creates severe risks to good governance.

“As it has become Congress’s habit to only pass bipartisan legislation on the eve of a governmental crisis, our problems do not lessen if we are just going to drag our feet for two years instead of one. Agencies already tell us how hard it is to execute funds when they receive appropriations five months late. How much do we solve if we move to two-year appropriations process wherein funding allocations are 13 months late? Creating a more drawn-out process will not guarantee Congress will stick to timelines, but would just give us more time to fill with more off-cycle requests...

“For those who still believe in Congress’s key role in oversight, our recourse should be to draft appropriations bills as we have historically done -- with a seriousness of purpose and by maintaining the efficiency that a one-year deal brings.

“We can solve the ‘Budget Problem’ if we approach the appropriations process in a serious manner, if we finally come together to meaningfully address entitlements that now consume two-thirds of our budget, and recognize--as my home state has--that a reasonable amount of new revenue is necessary if we are to truly invest in the future of our nation. No rule prohibits this from happening today--only a lack of will.

“In closing, I would point out that in 2010, Congress fundamentally changed how it approached the budget. However, the intervening eight years have proven that rule changes do nothing absent a commitment to govern in a sober, deliberative, and well-intentioned fashion.”