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Budget Overhaul Panel Dances With Deadline

Womack and Lowey have a lot to work out before November — like when the fiscal year will start

Rep. Steve Womack and his fellow budget process reformers have a lot of ground to cover this fall. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Rep. Steve Womack and his fellow budget process reformers have a lot of ground to cover this fall. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A special bicameral panel established to try to overhaul the annual budget process won’t reach a final agreement before the House leaves on Friday for its six-week midterm election break. But its members will meet privately one more time before the lame duck session to discuss various proposals that could become part of a final bill.

“With regards to timeline, the two co-chairs will not complete work on a joint proposal in the three legislative days remaining this month, so the end of September timeline will not be met,” according to Evan Hollander, a spokesman for Rep. Nita M. Lowey. The New York Democrat is co-chairwoman of the Joint Select Committee on Budget and Appropriations Process Reform, alongside co-chairman Steve Womack, an Arkansas Republican, who had pushed for a deal by the end of this month.

Lowey is also ranking member on the House Appropriations Committee, while Womack is chairman of the House Budget Committee. Hollander said the 16-member select panel will “hold an informal members meeting” Wednesday to discuss proposals circulated by the committee leaders.

Sen. David Perdue said Tuesday that he expects Wednesday’s meeting will be similar to several private meetings the panel has held during the past few weeks, where lawmakers discussed the changes they could make to the annual budget and appropriations process. Such changes under consideration have included moving to a two-year schedule for adoption of budget resolutions, and potentially turning the budget into legislation that would be signed into law.

[Potential Fiscal Year Move Sows Discord on Select Budget Panel]

“I would suspect it would be like the last couple working sessions … where we took a topic and said, ‘Okay. Let’s talk about pros and cons,’” the Georgia Republican said. “The question is, can we coalesce around some common issues, like biennial budgeting, milestones, is the budget going to be a law, consequences. Some pretty major stuff.”

There is a lot of ground to cover before the panel’s eight Republicans and eight Democrats are going to be ready to advance a final proposal ahead of the Nov. 30 deadline set out under the February law creating the select committee. If a majority of members on each side of the aisle on the panel can agree on a consensus package, it would be automatically placed on the Senate calendar for consideration, though it could be blocked if backers can’t round up 60 votes to advance the measure.

[Joint Budget Committee Will Meet on the Side to Work It Out]

Lowey has circulated a proposal that includes:

  • Eliminating the debt limit.
  • Moving from an annual to a biennial budget resolution.
  • Disallowing the use of filibuster-proof reconciliation procedures in the Senate for deficit-increasing legislation.
  • Restoring pay-as-you-go rules in the House requiring offsets for both tax cuts and mandatory spending increases.
  • Setting up a process by which discretionary spending level can be adopted if Congress can’t agree on a budget resolution by May 15.
  • Requiring the Appropriations panels to adopt a full set of subcommittee allocations before subcommittees can advance bills.

Womack’s ideas are quite a bit different. He has proposed the panel move the annual appropriations cycle from a fiscal year that begins on Oct. 1 to one that begins with the calendar year on Jan. 1, add incentives and punishments for lawmakers if the government isn’t funded on time, and strengthen the budget committee to make it “a bit more meaningful.”

One area they both agree on, however, is moving from an annual to a biennial budget resolution.

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