- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 27, 2018

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan on Wednesday threw his support behind a plan to move to a two-year budget for the federal government, saying it would give Congress more time to get its work done and perhaps end the cycle of shutdown showdowns.

But other lawmakers said it will take more than tinkering with the calendar to fix the budget and spending process, which all sides say is broken after three government shutdowns in the last five years. Some of those lawmakers said it was time to disband Congress’s budget committees altogether, saying they never meet deadlines and only gum up the works.

The back-and-forth came as a special committee is working on fixes.

“I think biennial budgeting is the smartest way to go,” Mr. Ryan said. “We may not be able to change the deadlines, but we can change the calendar.”

He was backing a proposal by Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi, who wants to have Congress write just six spending bills per year, rather than try to finish all 12 every year. Mr. Ryan said he doubts the Senate, increasingly tied down by filibusters, will ever again be able to write all 12 bills in a year.

Mr. Ryan said Congress is already in the habit of setting overall spending levels every two years, thanks to a series of shutdown showdown deals over the last five years, so it’s not a big leap from that to a two-year budget.

“We have sort of demonstrated that we can put together two-year deals, two-year spending cap deals that work, but now we want to have, I think, [an] appropriations process that follows that kind of a track,” he said.

Mr. Enzi said in a Wednesday floor speech that in addition to paving the way for a smoother process, his idea to divide the spending bills into two-year periods would provide more budget certainty for federal agencies, notably the Defense Department, which has complained about the recent trend of stopgap funding bills.

“Annual spending fights and the inability to plan … have wreaked havoc on the department’s workforce and contracting efforts,” he said.

But other members with experience on the appropriations committee said moving to such a two-year schedule for spending bills would dilute the committee’s power and oversight responsibilities on the federal spending process.

“Let’s have the appropriations committee retain its power, assume no more, and be responsive to a responsible, bipartisan budget resolution,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who did say she would support a two-year budgeting schedule.

Still others suggested more far-reaching changes.

Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee said his time on the Senate budget panel has “been the biggest waste of time one can possibly imagine,” and suggested junking the committee.

“It has nothing to do with the leadership of the committee,” he said. “It’s that it’s nothing but a political tool each side uses.”

The last two budgets congressional Republicans passed included a fast-track tool, known as reconciliation, they used to try to speed through Obamacare repeal and tax reform with simple majorities in both congressional chambers.

Democrats also used reconciliation to pass their final version of Obamacare.

Rep. Devin Nunes, meanwhile, called for a complete overhaul of the current committee structure. Right now each issue has both a policy committee that authorizes programs, and a spending panel that actually doles out the money. Mr. Nunes said those should be combined into committees that can both authorize and spend.

He said he’s pitched the idea to the GOP conference, but that it didn’t win majority support because members working their way up the committee leadership ladder didn’t want to vote to take away their own power.

“This is never going to get fixed until we decide to pull it out by the roots and start anew,” said the California Republican.

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