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Shutdowns Seem Normal Now. We’re Frustrated Too

Our joint panel is trying to fix Congress’ broken budget process — please take it seriously

Just because the budget process is broken doesn’t mean it is irrevocably broken, Kilmer and Arrington write. Above, a worker stacks budget copies at the Government Publishing Office’s plant on North Capitol Street. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Just because the budget process is broken doesn’t mean it is irrevocably broken, Kilmer and Arrington write. Above, a worker stacks budget copies at the Government Publishing Office’s plant on North Capitol Street. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

OPINION — The American people have told us time and again — in the grocery store, at town halls, and through phone calls and emails — that they have lost faith in Congress’ ability to get things done. We share their frustration.

Over the past few years, Congress has routinely shirked some of its most basic responsibilities, including funding the government through a functioning budget process. Too often, Congress has defaulted to the politics of shutdowns and continuing resolutions, having a negative impact on all Americans. Both chambers have become so acquainted with it that it has become the norm.

In order to meet its obligations to the American people, Congress must maintain a responsible budget — just like any state or local government, private or nonprofit organization, family or individual. The budget is not only a financial statement, but also a statement of our priorities and values. In a properly functioning republic, our constituents should know where their elected officials stand on the issues. A failing budget and appropriations process robs them of that insight.

Despite the benefits of passing a budget on time, Congress has chosen not to fund the government in a timely manner each year for over twenty years. For two decades, we have allowed partisan dysfunction to prevent Congress from fulfilling its constitutional responsibility of funding the government. That has bred distrust and division and led to fiscal irresponsibility, with both parties at fault.

These decisions hurt all Americans — the young and the old, Republicans and Democrats, the people of Texas and citizens of Washington state. No one is spared from the fallout of a failing budget process.

We sit on different sides of the aisle, believe in different roles for the federal government, and represent different constituencies, but we are united in our belief that the budget process desperately needs repair.

Fortunately, there is hope.

For more than six months, we have served on the Joint Select Committee on Budget and Appropriation Process Reform working to develop fixes to our broken budget and appropriations process. Seven other Republicans and seven other Democrats serve on the committee with us — half from the House and half from the Senate. It is clear to us that every member of the committee believes meaningful and bipartisan changes are needed in the budget process.

We are encouraged by both the level of engagement and progress thus far. We’ve heard from a number of outside experts and 25 members of Congress including, Speaker Paul Ryan and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Witnesses who have come before the committee have shared several constructive proposals aimed at achieving real reforms to the budget process. The organizations that have testified represented views from all along the political spectrum and various interests from farmers to engineers to veterans.

These groups with disparate perspectives were able to reach consensus, encouraging those on both sides of the dais. With testimony from colleagues and outside experts in hand, members of the committee have already started the difficult work of trying to reach agreement on a slate of proposals before the end of the year.

While we are encouraged by the strides Congress has made in fiscal 2019, more needs to be done. With topline numbers, appropriators have passed legislation out of committee and chambers, and several of the funding bills have been signed into law and others are in the final stages of being approved.

A responsible process allows Congress to plan for the future and responsibly invest in the things our government should be focused on: defense, infrastructure, research, and veteran services, among others. The work we have done this year is a step in the right direction.

A reformed process can provide the certainty and continuity of funding that our government needs and our citizens deserve. Therefore, we urge our colleagues to give the final Joint Select Committee proposals serious consideration.

Rep. Derek Kilmer, a Democrat, represents Washington’s 6th District. Rep. Jodey C. Arrington, a Republican, celebrates Texas’ 19th District. Both are serving on the Joint Select Committee on Budget and Appropriation Process Reform.

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