February 7 2013
The Secret to Deficit Reduction: Getting Back to Basics
I've discovered the secret to deficit reduction and bipartisan fiscal reform. It's a policy trick that has been lost, but decades ago was created by Congress to avoid constant fiscal crises like those we face today. The best part is that it is simple. It very well could be just what Washington needs to climb out of its debt mire.
It's called the federal budget process, and it was created in 1974. It's not perfect -- there are many ways the process could be improved -- but the critical core is there: Spending money responsible starts with knowing how much money you have and prioritizing how you are going to spend it. So the big question is: Can both sides of the aisle agree we actually need a budget?
Congress is making the deficit reduction process way too complicated. Convoluted sequesters, eleventh hour debt limit increases, unelected commissions, special committees, and secret meetings are overcomplicating a straightforward fiscal process.
Here's how it's supposed to work: The president is required to submit a budget on the first Monday of each February. That budget serves as a starting point for Congressional committees to outline their funding requests to budget committees. After deliberation at the committee level, the House proposes and passes a budget, and then the Senate is required by law to follow a similar process and pass its own budget by April 1. Both chambers must work on the differences between their budgets and enact a budget by April 15. The committees will then use the top-line spending numbers from the budget to create appropriation bills that actually authorize the use of federal money. Any spending bills must be enacted before the new fiscal year begins October 1.
There are several steps, but it is a clear process that forces the government to undergo a process that's familiar to just about all responsible families, businesses, hospitals, churches, and other organizations.
Budgets have two simple goals: to set priorities and allocate resources. But because senators fear putting those facts -- our financial condition and how they plan to spend taxpayer money -- on the record, they have refused produce a budget in the last four years. And as a result, the federal debt has increased 55 percent since the president first took office.
And it looks increasingly unlikely to happen this year. The president has already derailed the budget process by announcing his budget will be a month late. This should come as no surprise: President Obama is the first in history to deliver three late budgets in one term. As our nation's leader, the president has the responsibility to set the tone of fiscal negotiations, and his procrastination is complicating a process designed to function.
The Senate should also recognize that while they are reluctant to lay out their priorities for the American people to scrutinize, not passing a budget means going on the record for massive debt increases, last minute fiscal cliff solutions, and continual focus on our spending instead of turning to important issues like job creation, immigration, tax reform, and healthcare.
Households who can stick to a budget will have less debt. Women, who tend to be the primary bill payers and consumers of their households, know financial trouble looms when their households deviate from those budgets. Washington has deviated from budget making for years; it is time to go back to "business as usual" and follow the budget process.
If the president wants to leave a fiscal legacy other than record-breaking levels of deficit spending, he can lead the tone of this year's budget process and submit his budget on time.
Emily Wismer is a policy analyst at the Independent Women's Forum.