Weekly Column of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) on "Two-Year Budgeting"

Posted on February 17, 2008

We hear a lot this year from the American people that they would like to change the way we do business in Washington, D.C. That means that Congress should focus on big issues, come up with good principled ideas, and debate those principles in a bipartisan setting. I heard Minister Rick Warren speak the other day. He said he wasn't so interested in interfaith dialogue; he was interested in good works. I think that's what the people want to see from us. My suggestion for good works and results is that we adopt a two-year budget and appropriations process. This is not simply a Republican idea, or a Democrat idea. This is a good idea. A two-year budget process would force Congress to spend more time fixing or repealing broken programs and less time spending taxpayer dollars. Biennial budgeting is a good first step toward fixing our broken budgeting process and eliminating unnecessary government. Over the past several years, Congress has routinely failed to pass its individual appropriations bills by the end of the fiscal year. This has forced Congress to pass stop-gap legislation to keep the government operating. These giant “omnibus” appropriations bills – which are multiple spending bills rolled into one larger bill – contain costly, unrelated provisions that avoid the scrutiny they would get if considered during the normal appropriations process. The Biennial Budgeting and Appropriations Act mandates that Congress spend the first session of each Congress considering and adopting a two-year budget resolution and two-year appropriations bills. The second session would then focus on reviewing the policies and programs funded in the budget. There are plenty of pressures in Washington to spend more money and create new programs. Two-year budgeting would create a counterpressure for oversight, a review of spending, and the elimination of wasteful programs. Let me give an example or two of why it would make a difference. When the Senate begins debate on the higher education bill in a few weeks, I'm going to ask permission to bring onto the Senate floor several boxes containing all the rules and regulations that 6,000 higher education institutions in this country must wade through in order to accept students who receive a federal grant or loan. The stack of boxes is as tall as I am. The new bill to reauthorize the Higher Education Act that Congress will likely pass this year doubles the number of rules and regulations. Some of them are probably needed, but what we haven't had time to do is to go through that box of rules and regulations and see if we can cut them in half. We haven't had time to do that. If we spend every other year drawing up a budget and passing appropriations bills – and then every other year going back through rules, laws, and regulations already on the books – I think we'd have a strong force for fewer rules, fewer regulations, and fewer laws and more effective, if not less, spending. No wonder the people of this country are upset with us. Final action on appropriations bills has occurred an average of 96 days after the start of the fiscal year. Our fiscal year starts October 1. It’s our calendar, so everybody has to adjust their business to a strange year, and then we never meet this deadline. So, my hope is that this year we can honor Americans by saying to the country, ‘We're going to change the way Washington does business, we're going to do it in a bipartisan way. We're going to adopt a two-year budget. We're going to spend every other year revising, repealing laws, making government efficient. And we're going to get our budgeting and appropriations done on time so we can save the taxpayers dollars and so that states and cities can do so in a timely way.’