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Improving The Federal Budget Process

It’s a trash heap, an absolute disaster, and everyone knows it.

Since it seems unlikely that Congress will ever vote for a Constitutional requirement to balance the budget, I have some alternate ideas that would help the budget process, even if it doesn’t perfect it.

First, move to biennial  budgeting. Changing the process to cover 2 years instead of 1, does several things.

1. You only have the fight the battle once during a congressional term.
2. It would be good for the economy, stability always is. When people and companies know what to expect in the future, confidence gets a nice boost.
3. Small insertions get magnified. Since everything would essentially double, it makes it much easier to identify waste.

Second, we need to have a fail safe in case Congress doesn’t pass a budget. For this I think a 1 year extension of the last biennial budget, minus 5% across the board would encourage Congress to pass a bill, otherwise they lose the ability to make choices and every program suffers a loss of 5% rather than any increases.

Third, ditch automatic increases when budgeting. Instead of starting out every time with a 7% increase in spending, and making cuts that still result in higher spending, require Congress to use last terms numbers as a starting point. If you have an increase of 7% and than say you cut the budget by 3%, remember that you still have somewhere 4% of an increase. Yes, they are charlatans, I know.

Fourth, we hold Congress captive starting 60 days before the expiration of the current budget. We build sparse barracks, like this:

If you know anything about how they elect the Pope, you know this would be effective. A quick overview of the (without the changes made in the last 50 years) process shows why:

1. Cardinals were locked in the Sistine Chapel. They don’t get let out until they elect a Pope.
2. After a week or so, they used to ration their food if they hadn’t elected anyone. Food would get worse over time.
3. It forces discussion rather than endless posturing.

I like all of these ideas, that Saint Benedict knew what he was doing. Obviously I would make a few changes:

1. If they fail to pass a biennial budget within 60 days, eg. the expiration of the last one, the old budget takes over with the 5% reduction and no other changes for  an additional year.
2. The food would get decreasingly palatable with every passing day.
3. Congress doesn’t get paid until a budget is passed. That means a 1 year hiatus for failure to pass the first year of the term.
4. The leadership of each party is banned from seeking election again if Congress fails to pass a budget after one year of the automatic extension.

Finally, the last thing I would do is mandate that no more than one department can be funded by any single bill. This would have us getting rid of the process that results in large sections of government being paralyzed because funding for one department can’t be agreed upon. For example if they can’t decide on how to fund the EPA, only the EPA would get hit by the 5% reduction when their budget is extended another year. Rather than what happens now, they can’t agree on funding for the EPA and 6 other departments shut down because they are on the same bill. Generally I like it when the government is stalemated, but come on, there is no reason to attach the EPA to the federal park service and shut the parks down until the EPA budget gets hashed out (or extended and down 5%).

While I would prefer Congress to pass a balanced budget amendment, I doubt it will ever happen. I would give anything for members to be sequestered for 2 months on prison rations. This post is really a little tongue in cheek, not entirely, I would actually be supportive if they attempted to do any of these things.

Addition: Assuming all this were instituted, it seems to me there is a possibility they still may waffle on the budget. If this were to be the case, I say we kidnap all the family members of those in Congress and start pitching them off of the top of the Washington Monument. Maybe one every 12 hours to make sure they know we mean business. It’s possible that even this would have no effect. If we run out of family members, we start pitching members of Congress.

(this last bit is actually not something I’m serious about. The others… I’m as serious as a heart attack about them.)

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