This would be funny if it weren’t so sad in so many ways: House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) has proposed a series of changes in the congressional budget process.
Don’t get me wrong; the existing budget process not only is not perfect but is close to a disaster.
But after a full year when it has completely and utterly failed to do anything substantive on the budget itself and every end-run around the existing process restrictions hasn’t worked, Ryan is now saying in effect that it’s the process’ fault and everything would be okay if it were changed…even though the standard process wasn’t really used.
To a certain extent this is one of the traditional congressional budget dodges. As any experienced federal budget watcher will tell you, Congress almost always proposes to do something about the budget process when it can’t or won’t do something about the budget itself. This is the fiscal equivalent of a member of the House or Senate saying “Stop me before I kill again.”
But Ryan’s effort deserves special mention because it comes after the spectacular failures of all of the other deficit reduction efforts over the past year that were specifically designed to avoid the legislative gauntlet of the existing budget process. It makes the concept of his proposed changes beyond laughable.
Think about the outside-of-the-budget-process efforts that crashed and burned over the past 12 months:
- Bowles-Simpson didn’t get the 14 votes needed to move the plan to congressional consideration.
- The talks led by Vice President Biden and House Majority Leader Cantor (R-VA) went nowhere.
- The summit between President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) also went nowhere.
- The Senate failed to pass a bill that would have created a congressional deficit reduction committee.
- The anything-but-super committee, which used a BRAC-like procedure and had the ability to get a straight up and down vote in both houses on a proposal, could barely agree on the size of the table around which it would negotiate let alone a deficit reduction plan.
But somehow, Ryan thinks all of this failure is the fault of the existing budget process even though that wasn’t used.
The only way budget process changes ever have a shot at succeeding is if they reflect an existing consensus about what to do about the budget. At that point the new procedures are just implementing policies that have already been agreed to. The federal budget process changes that have worked even for a short time — like the 1974 Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act — are examples of this.
But budget process changes that come before there is a consensus — like Gramm-Rudman-Hollings in 1985 and what Ryan is proposing now — are nothing more than a back-door attempt to impose policies that don’t have majority support. That makes the new procedural proposal at least as likely to fall flat on its face as the existing process and gives it a shelf life measured in days rather than years.
Here’s what Ryan proposed. Some of the proposals have merit. But many or most have been rejected multiple times over the years. Others have already been proven to be unsuccessful. A number are simply attempts by Congress to grab power from the executive branch on budget issues even though Congress has hardly shown itself capable of dealing with the fiscal responsibilities it already has.
And, taken together, they really are nothing more than attempt to impose a GOP-preferred consensus on the budget that doesn’t reflect anything ever remotely approved by a majority of both houses.
In other words, this is all nonsense…and that’s pulling my punches.