Budget process reform is back in vogue. Coming on the heels of yesterday’s hearings about budget process in both the House and Senate, Senators Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) have introduced a bill that would reform pieces of the budget process to avoid certain gimmicks and make other improvements. Their "Honest Budget Act" would,
- Reform the budget process to make it more difficult to move appropriation bills unless a budget resolution is already in place.
- Reform the process for “emergency spending” to make it more difficult to enact spending through emergency procedures.
- Improve the cost estimate of loan and loan guarantee programs to better reflect the actual value of the loan, and their risks.
- Adopt a rule that would no longer allow budget authority rescissions to count as savings, unless they result in actual cash savings.
- No longer allow changes in mandatory spending bills to be used to offset discretionary spending bills.
- No longer would count tax collection timing shifts as savings.
- Eliminate automatic “within-grade” step increases for federal employees.
- No longer allow general fund transfers to the Highway Trust Fund to be scored as deficit neutral.
- Reinstate the budget point of order limiting Congress’ ability to defer increased spending to future years in order to make room for more immediate needs in the current year.
While budget process reform is not a silver bullet and will not alone solve our budget ills, a better process will certainly improve matters and can make it more likely that savings from a fiscal plan stay in place and are real. The Peterson-Pew Commission on Budget Reform has some additional ideas for improving the budget process and getting the country's fiscal situation in order.