Georgia U.S. Sen. David Perdue has an ambitious plan to revive Washington’s broken budget process. The question is whether anyone else on Capitol Hill cares to listen.
The freshman Republican unveiled a draft proposal Thursday that would fundamentally rewrite the Senate’s budget rules with the goal of forcing lawmakers to finance the government on time. Perdue says doing so is the first step toward getting the country’s fiscal house in order.
“I believe if you get this then you have the opportunity to debate taxes, spending cuts, military spending, domestic programs and mandatory spending,” Perdue told reporters Thursday.
The former Fortune 500 CEO spent months surveying his Senate colleagues for ideas about how Congress could, for the first time in roughly two decades, pass its 12 annual spending bills on time. He also studied examples from foreign governments and the corporate world.
The result is a sweeping proposal that would fundamentally change the nation’s budget laws for the first time in more than 40 years.
It would first force Congress to pass a budget blueprint (it’s currently optional and functions more as the majority’s policy wish-list). It would create a new committee that would act as a nerve center of spending and policy decisions and require lawmakers to take into account the costs of entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare, among other changes. Most importantly, it would include a mechanism to force lawmakers to do their work — potentially cutting their pay or that of their aides.
“There is no alternative but to change this process,” Perdue said. “This can’t continue. It’s totally embarrassing as a federal government of the largest enterprise in the history of the world that out of 12 appropriations bills it takes to fund this government that we’ve averaged 2.6 (annually) in the last 42 years.”
Perdue is not the first to float an overhaul of Washington’s budget process — Georgia colleague Johnny Isakson has for years pushed a more limited bill to shift the government to a two-year budget cycle — but past plans have not advanced far.
That’s because leaders on Capitol Hill are wary of any proposal that could limit their power. With both parties digging into their respective political corners and distrust of the other side high, agreeing on even modest pieces of legislation has become challenging, leaving major proposals all but impossible to move.
There’s also a shrinking legislative calendar this year, as well as disagreement in Washington’s budget circles about what’s the best way to tackle Capitol Hill’s deep-seated fiscal paralysis.
The proposal was quickly dismissed by budget experts from both parties.
“It’s a terrible, terrible, terrible idea to think that you can somehow produce legislation by docking the pay of staff,” said Jim Dyer, formerly the top Republican aide on the House Appropriations Committee. “What you will do is send the staff off looking for other jobs.”
Scott Lilly of the liberal Center for American Progress, once Dyer’s Democratic counterpart, said the problems plaguing the budget process don’t stem from the process itself.
“It is a failure of American politics and the kind of people who are populating Congress,” he said. “As long as you have 80 House members who are going to stop breathing and turn blue until they get their way … then you’re going to have serious problems under any system or mechanism.”
Perdue said the proposal is not final and that the goal is to prompt discussion with other senators about what could be done to move forward.
Roswell Republican Tom Price is leading a similar effort in the House as chairman of the Budget Committee. Both men will need significant Democratic buy-in if they would like to see any movement, regardless of which party wins control of the Senate in November.
Even if this particular proposal does not advance, it is a major accomplishment for Perdue. It puts weight behind his frequent speeches about the dangers stemming from Washington’s mounting debt.
Perdue’s proposal on Thursday won him kind words from at least one former rival, onetime Rep. Jack Kingston.
Kingston, who ran against Perdue for the GOP Senate nomination in 2014 and once held a powerful appropriations chairmanship on Capitol Hill, compared Perdue’s proposal to dock lawmakers’ pay to college football coaches whose salaries are tied to performance.
“I think the idea of raising the expectation as shown through a pay cut is actually viable,” he said.