As Prepared for Delivery
Today’s hearing marks an informal kickoff to a renewed effort by this committee to reform the Congressional budget process. This is not this committee’s first look at this topic. We began to examine the broader contours of a reform effort through two hearings we held last year.
Nevertheless, we are beginning what will be a series of hearings over the coming weeks. The aim is to have these discussions inform the drafting of legislation to enact a true overhaul of the 1974 Congressional Budget Act.
But before we get too fully immersed in the details and mechanics of what a functioning budget process ought to look like, we need to step back and remember why we need a functioning budget process in the first place. We have to look at the big picture to get an appreciation of the fundamentals at play in this discussion.
You do not get more fundamental from a legislative or legal standpoint than the Constitution. Before there was a Budget Committee or the antiquated budget process we have today, there was the Constitution – with the roles, responsibilities, and authorities it prescribes.
And the Constitution makes it quite clear that budgeting is not to be viewed as ancillary to the larger governing process – but rather fundamental to it. In Article I, the Constitution gives Congress the power of the purse. Congress writes the laws that govern this land and it appropriates the funds necessary to help carry out those laws.
Appropriately, the Constitution does not prescribe a specific budget process for Congress to follow. The architects of our republic were wise in understanding the limits of their own foresight. They left it to Congress to fill in the blanks with a system that will allow the people’s representatives to carry out their Constitutional duties. Right now we do not have such a system in place that serves the people well or that holds Congress accountable.
Because of that fact, over time Congress has surrendered much of its power of the purse to the executive branch. The question we have before us today is how can we go about reclaiming Congress’ authority and, in so doing, restore greater order and credibility to the governing process as a whole.
A breakdown in budgeting leads to a breakdown in broader policymaking. That is why this reform effort goes far beyond the interests of just this committee or our friends on the Appropriations Committee. All of Congress and all committees have a vested interest in seeing that we have a functioning budget process.
Perhaps the most troubling consequence of our current failed process is the remarkable growth in automatic spending. This is the spending that Congress has largely avoided addressing and which is done outside the annual appropriations process.
Automatic spending is the sole source of Federal spending growth as a share of the economy. It is the main driver of government debt. Unchecked growth in this type of spending is truly an affront to the spirit of Article I because it removes an important part of Congress’ power of the purse – namely the power to choose when NOT to spend. By design, automatic spending requires the consent of the executive – a presidential signature – to turn it off.
For those needing a real world example of what we are talking about today, look no further than the recent ruling by a U.S. District Court judge. In a decision announced just a few weeks ago, a DC Circuit Judge ruled that the administration could not expend funds to a program for which Congress had refused to appropriate money. This court ruling in no uncertain terms reinforced Congress’ Article I power of the purse.
Lastly, today’s hearing should hopefully shed some important light on the hidden regulatory costs that are too often overlooked during budgetary discussions. In 2015 alone, Federal regulatory costs were upwards of $1.9 trillion. That’s equivalent to roughly half of what the Federal government spent last year. It is more than was collected in income tax revenue. And none of these costs were directly approved by Congress. They are born out of executive branch rule-making.
So we have a robust set of challenges before us, and this ought to be a non-partisan discussion. A sound budget process benefits no single party or governing philosophy. It is necessary for the health of our republic – something we all care about.
I want to thank all of our witnesses for being here today and for their interest in these issues. We have Philip Joyce, Senior Associate Dean and Professor at the University of Maryland School of Public Policy; Stan Collender, Executive Vice President at Qorvis MSLGROUP, and Matthew Spalding, Associate Vice President and Dean of Educational Programs at Hillsdale College and the Allan P. Kirby, Jr. Center for Constitutional Studies and Citizenship.
Thank you all for being willing to take time to share your insights into how Congress can reclaim the power of the purse and restore a healthy, constitutional balance of power.
And with that I yield to the acting Ranking Member, Mr. Pascrell.