Sen. David Perdue says it’s time to impose real penalties against lawmakers when they fail to pass budgets and spending bills on time, and thinks the new Joint Select Committee on Budget and Appropriations Process Reform might be the way to deliver those penalties.
Perdue and 15 other House and Senate lawmakers were appointed to the select committee over the last week. The group is hoping to agree on reforms that end the cycle of government shutdowns and omnibus spending bills that has dominated Congress for the last decade.
The Georgia Republican has several ideas for fixing the process, including combining some of the 12 annual bills together to streamline the work and using a calendar year instead of the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1.
“The first year of new Congress, we start out three months behind and you never catch up,” he said.
But in an interview with the Washington Examiner, Perdue stressed that a big part of the reform needs to be real consequences for lawmakers if they fail to do the work.
“If you don’t have consequences that penalize the players, Congress and the administration for nonperformance, then it won’t work,” he said.
“No matter what you do in the process, if you don’t have some ramification for nonperformance at the end of the budget cycle and at the end of the funding cycle, then it’s all for naught,” Perdue added.
He noted that in the Budget Control Act of 2011, Congress created the sequester as a punishment that would cut from all discretionary accounts if lawmakers failed to reach a spending deal. But he said that was the wrong prescription and said the next version needs to hit lawmakers directly.
In Georgia, for example, lawmakers stay in the capitol until a spending deal is reached, and they aren’t allowed to go home. “I think we need something like that up here,” Perdue said.
That specific penalty is harder to impose on federal lawmakers, since they are full-time legislators who don’t have second jobs to attend. Still, he said some way needs to be found, such as the “no funding, no pay” bill that several lawmakers have proposed during the more recent funding failures.
“I personally agree with that,” he said.
Perdue was appointed to the select committee with a bipartisan group of seven other senators and a similar group of eight House lawmakers. They have until Nov. 30 to make recommendations on how to improve the budget, authorization, and spending process, and the group is scheduled to be disbanded by the end of the year.
That gives the group just nine months to meet and agree on how to fix things. But Perdue was optimistic, in part because the process is so clearly broken that many seem ready for real changes.
“My personal intent of this select committee is to create a politically neutral platform to fund the government on time, every year, just like every other entity in the world does,” Perdue said.
The “politically neutral” part of that is important to Perdue. He hopes both parties see the value of creating a predictable process that moves away from the current system that usually results in a last-minute omnibus spending bill that the minority, and even many in the majority, are powerless to shape.
“You get kicked into these continuing resolutions and an omnibus where six or seven people get in a room and decide how to spend $1 trillion,” he said.
Perdue admits there’s no guarantee that a new process will yield better results. A new system might help, but only if Congress is in the mood to manage things more effectively.
He also worries that seemingly permanent state of war between Republicans and Democrats might prevent changes that are commonplace in the business world he left behind when he became a senator.
“We’ve got so few people who have ever been in a business or any kind of enterprise where you make change like this,” he said. “This happens every day in the business world. In the political world, it’s a great big lift because you’ve got distrust.”
But the reward could be big, especially for Perdue, who hopes a new process will let Congress carve out enough time to finally manage the $4 trillion federal government. That means, in part, having the time to isolate wasteful programs that conservatives have been highlighting for years, and then actually eliminating them instead of just noting them in the annual “wastebooks” that some lawmakers publish.
Perdue said the ability to manage spending is the “thing that’s missing” in Washington for deficit hawks, but is something that could be created if the select committee can fix a process that he argues “was never built to work.”