The Richmond Register

Viewpoints

April 17, 2013

Tired of budget shenanigans? Here’s an answer

With the formal release of President Obama’s budget, the pieces are finally in place for a reprise of the Washington drama we’ve all come to know.

There will be high-stakes negotiations, lines in the sand, and enough intrigue to keep Beltway insiders riveted by every piece of breaking news.

The rest of us, though, are already worn out.

In repeated conversations with ordinary people, I’ve been struck by the immense frustration I’ve encountered.

They’re tired of brinksmanship and constant fiscal crisis. They’re fed up with accusations, spin, fear mongering, and intransigence. They’ve had it with a complex, opaque process when the outline of a solution – controlling spending and entitlements, raising revenues to meet the country’s obligations, and investing in economic growth – seems evident.

Above all, they’re weary of a government that appears addicted to crisis.

Why, they wonder, can we not pass a budget in an orderly, rational way?

That’s a good question, though the answer is hardly reassuring: I believe Congress no longer knows how. Talking to a group of younger members recently, I realized they’d had no experience of following regular procedures to craft a budget.

They’ve spent their congressional careers watching the leadership put it together in an ad-hoc, crisis-fueled manner.

True budget-making skills on Capitol Hill are eroding. It’s in danger of becoming a lost art.

Yet it need not be.

There is a time-honored process that we can rejuvenate at any time for constructing a budget. On Capitol Hill, it’s known as “the regular order.”

This is the insider’s way of referring to procedures that Congress developed over our history as a nation. Their guiding principle is to provide a coherent and well-structured way of deciding in detail where our national priorities ought to lie, and then funding them.

They were designed to give members of Congress a clear, fair way to scrutinize, consider, debate, and reach consensus on the divisive issues that go along with taxing and spending.

The last time Congress passed a regular-order budget, not an omnibus spending bill, was 1997.

Though it was far from a tidy process, its abandonment, I believe, is what has produced our current mess.

So what is the regular order?

The President submits a budget on time (not two months late, as President Obama has just done). Then congressional committees and subcommittees take it up, dividing their work according to the departments of government – agriculture, defense, transportation and the like. They hold hearings, call witnesses, explore what the executive branch has done with its money in the past, and consider its plans for the future. They debate and draft their own proposals, and allow amendments from both parties.

Once the full committee acts, its measure goes to the floor for further debate, amendments, and a vote. Eventually, the bills arrived at separately by the House and the Senate get reconciled and go to the President to be signed.

The advantage of the regular order, in addition to its transparency and accountability, is that it spreads the workload and makes room for the expertise and considered judgment of a wide array of legislators. In the past, the leadership deferred to experienced committee chairmen who knew the issues they were confronting inside and out, and who had a talent for drafting legislation. Rank-and-file members had a chance to influence the outcome through amendments and debate. The process played to Congress’s core strength of deliberation.

Not any longer. Now, huge omnibus bills and continuing resolutions – not to mention the mindless cudgel of the sequester – are put together by a handful of leaders and their staffs. They don’t have specific, detailed expertise, and they’re more interested in seeking partisan advantage than in fair process or effective legislating.

Too often in the past, members of Congress have sought some automatic budget mechanism – a balanced-budget amendment, say, or budget caps – to solve their problems. Mostly, these have been a way to avoid the hard choices required by the regular order. In the end, there’s no substitute for experience, knowledge, hard work, compromise, and a resolve to seek solutions. That’s what the regular order would encourage. It’s time for Congress to stop paying it lip service and actually revive it.

Lee Hamilton is Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.

1
Text Only
Viewpoints
  • Ronnie-Ellis.jpg Compromise is not that simple

    It’s tempting for a casual onlooker to wonder why the Democratic House and Republican Senate can’t make what on the surface looks like the obvious compromise on pension reform.
    The Senate passed a measure based on recommendations of a task force to move new employees into a hybrid, cash-balance plan but maintain existing defined benefits for current employees and retirees.

    March 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • Jim Waters.JPG Frankfort plays ping-pong with public pension transparency

    Legislation that would make the Kentucky Retirement Systems transparent for those paying its bills has danced into the spotlight during the 2014 session of the Kentucky General Assembly.
    Passage of transparency bills filed by Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Latonia, and Rep. Robert Benvenuti, R-Lexington, would make the “names, status, projected or actual benefit payments” subject to our commonwealth’s superlative Open Records Act.

    March 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • Jack Strauss-BW.jpg The case of the ghostly neighbor

    Wilbur lived in a world of fears. Everything frightened him. The full extent of his courage was to admit that he had none.
    Noises in the middle of the night, his own shadow creeping up on him and, most of all, black cats scared the wits out of him.
    So, picture his chagrin, one day, when he came home from vacation only to discover that a mausoleum had been erected on property adjacent to his home.

    March 8, 2014 1 Photo

  • Provisional concealed-carry law passes Senate unanimously

    Things are staying busy in Frankfort. Many bills are making their way onto the Senate floor from various committees. This past week several important pieces of legislation were debated and passed.
    I am particularly proud of the success we had in advocating for Kentuckians’ Second Amendment rights.
    I introduced Senate Bill 106 to allow anyone who has been granted an emergency protective or domestic violence order to receive a provisional CCDW permit from the Kentucky State Police in one business day. In some of these cases, victims need this type of protection as quickly as possible.

    March 8, 2014

  • Ronnie-Ellis.jpg 50 years makes a world of difference

    I wasn’t in Frankfort on March 5, 1964, when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph Abernathy, and Jackie Robinson led 10,000 on a march to the state Capitol in support of a public accommodations law.
    But a few months later, I stood in front of the “Music Hall,” site of the Glasgow Junior High School located on a street named Liberty, and watched black kids “walk up the hill” of College Street on the first day of integrated schools in Glasgow.

    March 8, 2014 1 Photo

  • 02.23 Mike Duncan mug.jpg Coal has kept Kentuckians warm this winter

    This winter, temperatures across the country dipped to historic lows. Here in our home state of Kentucky, the near-arctic climate caused increased power demand which resulted in an incredible strain on the electric grid and rising energy costs.

    March 6, 2014 1 Photo

  • Jim Waters.JPG Protecting citizens’ data is a no-brainer

    Target Corp. is learning the hard way: The price is steep for retailers who don’t protect customers’ sensitive financial information.
    Target’s profits fell a whopping 50 percent during its fourth quarter of 2013 as the result of a massive security breach involving as many as 110 million of its customers’ credit- and debit-card accounts, which began the day before Thanksgiving and extended throughout much of the holiday shopping season.

    March 1, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ike Adams Making plans for spring planting

    My brother Keith (Keeter) probably planted peas on one of those warm days last week, and I would not be at all surprised to find out that brother Steve did likewise to try to be the first two fellows in Letcher County to actually be digging the soil in their 2014 gardens.
    Keeter’s father-in-law, the late Dock Mitchell, used to get my brother to drive him a 50-mile round trip to get pea seeds and potting soil for early February planting. Dock raised mammoth melting sugar snow peas and sugar snaps around every fence on the place. 

    February 27, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ronnie-Ellis.jpg Cynicism, optimism both on display in Frankfort

    Those who spend little time in Kentucky’s Capitol and who read columns by cynics who cover it should be forgiven their disillusionment about how the people’s business is conducted.

    February 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ike Adams Even Scrooge would enjoy library mystery

    Saturday afternoons and evenings are usually down time for Loretta and me.
    We simply don’t get out much after we’ve used up the movie gift certificates the kids gave us for Christmas. That means we mostly go to the movies to avoid guilt trips because our kids do work hard for their money.

    February 20, 2014 1 Photo

AP Video
Raw: Magnitude-7.2 Earthquake Shakes Mexico City Ceremony at MIT Remembers One of Boston's Finest Raw: Students Hurt in Colo. School Bus Crash Raw: Church Tries for Record With Chalk Jesus Raw: Faithful Celebrate Good Friday Worldwide Deadly Avalanche Sweeps Slopes of Mount Everest Police Arrest Suspect in Highway Shootings Drought Concerns May Hurt Lake Tourism Vermont Goat Meat Gives Refugees Taste of Home Calif. Investigators Re-construct Fatal Bus Cras Mayor Rob Ford Launches Re-election Campaign Appellate Court Hears Okla. Gay Marriage Case Author Gabriel Garcia Marquez Dead at 87 Chelsea Clinton Is Pregnant Flamingo Frenzy Ahead of Zoo Construction Crew Criticized Over Handling of Ferry Disaster Agreement Reached to Calm Ukraine Tensions Boston Bombing Survivors One Year Later
Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide
Poll

Should the Richmond City Commission stop rezoning property to allow construction of apartments?

Yes.
No
     View Results