The Broken Budget Process: Perspectives from Former CBO Directors

Chairman Paul Ryan
Opening Remarks, As Prepared for Delivery

Welcome all, to this hearing.

The purpose of today’s hearing is to highlight the need to reform our broken budget process.

This summer, we got a first-hand look at how bad things have gotten.

After a request from the President to increase the debt limit, Congress was seemingly faced with two impossible choices: Either hand the President a blank check to continue his unsustainable spending policies, or let America default.

Fortunately, Congress was able to chart a middle course that coupled immediate spending restraints with a process to cut at least a dollar’s worth of spending for every dollar increase in the debt limit.

But it shouldn’t have gotten to this point. Congress created a budget process that was intended to prevent this kind of ad hoc policymaking.

Clearly, that process isn’t working.

  • The budget proposed by the President in February offered no plan to deal with what he has since acknowledged are the nation’s growing fiscal challenges.

  • Meanwhile, it has been 874 days since the Senate even bothered to pass a budget.

Congress has struggled with this process for a long time. This year’s breakdown in the federal budget process, however, could not have happened at a worse time.

Right now, it is contributing to the crippling uncertainty about fiscal policy that is discouraging businesses from making the kinds of long-term investments that create jobs.

There are parts of the budget process that are irredeemably broken, but other parts still work well, even if they could use improvement.

The 1974 Budget Act called on Congress to review the entire federal budget to both ascertain the economic impacts of our budget decisions and to help us make informed choices about how to raise revenue and allocate spending. 

To accomplish this, the Act established the House and Senate Budget Committees and charged them with the responsibility to develop and enforce annual budget resolutions.

In addition, it created CBO to give us non-partisan, objective budget estimates and economic projections.

CBO is far from perfect. But it is important to note that before CBO was created, Congress was reliant on the Executive Branch for budget projections and cost estimates of legislation.

I don’t agree with everything CBO produces, but I do think CBO strives to provide us with non-partisan, independent analysis to help us do our jobs.

Today, we will be hearing from two former CBO directors – the first two, in fact.

In addition to being former CBO directors, both Alice Rivlin and Rudy Penner, our witnesses today, have had long careers as budget experts in Washington. We are fortunate to have the benefit of their wisdom today.  

Before I yield, I want to emphasize one point: There’s a lot we can do to fix our broken budget process, but process reform can’t work unless members of Congress have the will to make it work.

Reform or no reform, it will take political courage and leadership to get our fiscal house in order.

I am proud to have worked with members of this committee to pass this year’s House budget on time. And even those members who disagreed with our reforms contributed to that process, for which I am grateful. 

To his credit, Mr. Van Hollen offered a substitute budget during floor consideration of the budget resolution.

Americans deserve a real debate over our fiscal future, and the budget process is an appropriate forum for that debate. Let’s fix what’s broken and build upon what’s working.   

With that, I yield to the Ranking Member, Mr. Van Hollen.