- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 29, 2018

Not only does Congress struggle to pass budgets, but on Thursday lawmakers proved they can’t even pass small changes intended to make the process easier.

After months of work, a bipartisan committee torpedoed its own blueprint for modest tweaks to the annual budgeting and spending process because of an internal rebellion by both parties.

“When the Congress of the United States … the most important government on the planet — cannot do its fundamental duty of budgets and appropriations on time, [it] is an absolute travesty,” said Rep. Steve Womack, Arkansas Republican and one of the co-chairs of the Joint Select Committee on Budget and Appropriations Process Reform.

The committee was created in February after a round of budget dysfunction resulted in repeated stopgap spending bills, two short government shutdowns and endless recriminations over who was to blame.

The goal was to come up with ways to remove some of the perennial hurdles and try to make the budget process work.

Mr. Womack and Rep. Nita M. Lowey, New York Democrat and the other co-chair, had come up with a plan for small tweaks, including only having to write a budget every other year.

Watchdogs said that was the very least the panel should do.

It turns out even that was too much.

“They were trying to take a baby step, and instead they fell on their face,” said Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. “I think I’m really just laughing so I don’t cry.”

She did say that members built relationships over their months of work and appear serious about moving forward.

“If the immediate failure of the [committee] can pivot into an ongoing effort by the group or a subgroup, this could turn into something promising,” she said. “I do absolutely hold out hope of that, because a lot of those members worked really hard to get something done and have become really committed to this issue. That’s promising.”

As it was, Thursday’s proposal mustered only seven “yes” votes out of 16 members of the committee. Five voted “no,” and four others voted “present.”

In addition to two-year budgeting, the proposal would have moved the deadline to approve a budget 15 days later, to May 1.

But the committee rejected more ambitious plans, including measures that would repeal the federal debt ceiling and overhaul the structure of the congressional budget committees.

It also rejected a push by Sen. James Lankford, Oklahoma Republican, to keep the Senate in session until lawmakers passed their spending bills or to dock lawmakers’ travel budgets if they didn’t get their work completed on time.

Mr. Lankford said the failed vote was “exceptionally” disappointing because there was potential in the ideas lawmakers were pursuing.

“There was a decision not to do anything this year, and that was very frustrating,” Mr. Lankford said.

One of those who voted “no,” Sen. David Perdue, Georgia Republican, said he just didn’t think the committee went far enough.

“The reason I had to be a ‘no’ was that I couldn’t represent to my colleagues that it was going to make any difference,” Mr. Perdue said. “If you don’t bring some sort of timetable and schedule to get appropriations done — and consequences if you don’t — then we’ll have the result we’ve had for the last 44 years.”

Democrats who voted “present” said they were frustrated that Senate leaders wouldn’t guarantee them fair floor time to debate their plans.

The vote failed as Congress raced another shutdown deadline. If lawmakers don’t pass a new round of funding by Dec. 7, then the Department of Homeland Security, NASA, the IRS and other agencies could face partial shutdowns.

“That is poetic,” said Rep. John A. Yarmuth of Kentucky, the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee.

After the vote, Mr. Womack, the current budget committee chairman, and Mr. Yarmuth introduced a standalone package in the House that included some of the committee’s recommendations.

Mr. Yarmuth said the goal is to show that lawmakers aren’t giving up.

“Hopefully, we can get a bunch of co-sponsors and pursue it next year,” Mr. Yarmuth said. “I think next year there will be an effort to do this in a different way.”

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