Price and Rokita Op-Ed in RealClearPolitics: How and Why We Budget

By House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price and Vice Chairman Todd Rokita
April 13, 2016

The American people are frustrated. For too long, they have seen too many in Washington standing in the way of responsible decisions that need to be made to secure our country’s future. Despite the fact that there has been some success – including cutting the deficit by over $800 billion – pushing back against the tax more/spend more agenda of President Obama, citizens are keenly aware that far more must be done to restore fiscal responsibility and advance real solutions.

Meanwhile our nation’s mountain of debt continues to grow. If Washington is ever going to get our debt under control and earn back the trust of the American people, Congress must lead the way by asserting its constitutional authority. Article I of the Constitution clearly states that it is the job of the legislative branch to write laws and to provide funding for government operations. With that duty come the responsibilities to be good stewards of the taxpayer’s hard-earned dollars and to ensure, through robust oversight, that the executive branch correctly enforces the law.
One way Congress meets that responsibility is through the annual appropriations process. Twelve individual bills that cover one-third of the budget – what is called “discretionary” spending – are supposed to be adopted on a yearly basis. Unfortunately, what often happens is passage of stop-gap legislation that maintains status quo spending levels. Or multiple appropriations bills are cobbled together into a giant package that is so dense and so all-encompassing that it makes it harder to have real transparency and accountability. This diminishes Congress’s constitutionally defined role in policymaking, while surrendering power and authority to the executive branch.

Meanwhile, the other two-thirds of the budget – what is known as “automatic” spending because the government pays the bills without a required annual appropriation – goes largely untouched and insufficiently scrutinized. That share of the annual budget is only growing larger, which means more and more of the money that Washington spends is being disbursed outside the regular, annual review process. When more and more spending is on auto-pilot, there are fewer and fewer opportunities or incentives for Congress to take a hard look at what the government is spending money on and to whom it is paying and to what extent that money is getting a positive result, if any.

The budget is the one legislative vehicle that looks at the whole picture, every year – both discretionary and automatic spending, along with taxes and oversight. It then lays out a vision for how to reconcile the priorities of the American people into a coherent strategy to put our fiscal house in order and appropriately fund those priorities. That is why, since being given the House majority, Republicans have written and fought for budgets that rein in spending and focus attention on reforming government. As proof of that effort, last year the House and Senate – now also with a Republican majority – were able to agree to the first joint 10-year balanced budget resolution since 2001.