Last month, Representative Jim Renacci (R-OH) introduced the “Budget Enforcement Awareness Resolution” in order to “restore integrity to budget enforcement by raising member awareness regarding budget-breaking legislation.” Through the Bipartisan Working Group, Renacci has led a series of efforts focused on budget process reform, including a resolution inviting the Comptroller General of the United States to give a "Fiscal State of the Nation" address and a measure to reform the debt limit and bring a long-term perspective into the budget process.
Budget enforcement refers to the procedural rules in the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974 (“The Budget Act”) that ensure that legislation affecting spending and revenues complies with the levels in the budget resolution. The Budget Act establishes several points of order prohibiting consideration of legislation that breaks the spending and revenue levels in the budget resolution or violates other budget rules. However, these rules are often waived, weakening a budget resolution’s credibility and undermining fiscal discipline.
The House routinely waives budget points of order as part of the rules under which legislation is considered on the floor. These rules often waive all points of order against legislation without much debate or even awareness that budget points of order are waived. According to the House Rules Committee Survey of Activities, the Budget Act was waived a total of 87 times during the 114th Congress. Eleven of the waivers were to provide new budget authority in excess of a committee’s spending allocation. Another 27 waivers were to allow an increase in total spending to be above the level in the resolution or reduce revenues below the level in the resolution.
Rather than including them in a blanket waiver of all points of order, Renacci’s proposal creates a mechanism to limit the House Rules Committee’s ability to waive budget-related points of order by requiring separate waivers for individual Budget Act points of order, thus allowing any Member to call for a separate roll call vote on these individual waivers. By adopting rules that allow separate votes on these waivers, Renacci's legislation would introduce transparency to the budget process by making his fellow representatives accountable to the public for their willingness to abide by the budget resolution and enforce fiscal discipline after a budget is adopted.
Making it harder to waive the Budget Act could be effective in enforcing fiscal discipline and represents an important step in making the budget process more meaningful. We have recommended similar measures to strengthen budget enforcement by requiring separate votes to waive budget points of order. In the Senate, Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi (R-WY) has proposed increasing the threshold of votes necessary to waive major violations of the Budget Act from 60 votes to 67.
It is important to remember that these procedures would only apply to legislation that violates the tax and spending levels in the budget resolution, making such legislation more difficult to pass than legislation that complies with the agreed-upon budget. Hopefully, Renacci's measure would make the budget resolution more meaningful by creating an incentive to rely on more realistic assumptions in the budget resolution that could accommodate likely legislation in the budget framework and avoid the need to waive the Budget Act.
Procedural reforms are not a substitute for actual policies that reduce projected deficits, and our path to fiscal responsibility requires that we place everything on the table in order to address our unsustainable, long-term budget outlook. However, budget process and enforcement reforms can make a difference in determining whether a bill under consideration will be fiscally responsible.
We commend Renacci’s efforts to make sure that Congress practices the fiscal goals it preaches. By creating a mechanism that prevents Congress from bypassing its already agreed-upon spending and revenue goals, Renacci's bill would strengthen the budget process in a way that could guide Congress toward more fiscally responsible legislation.
Click here to read our paper, “Strengthening the Budget Resolution.”
To read more about budget process reform, please visit our Better Budget Process Initiative.