Biennial budgeting a better process


Here’s a novel idea. When the way you do business is demonstrably ineffective, come up with a better plan.

The fiscal fiasco in Washington is proof that the way the federal government handles its checkbook is irresponsible and loaded with politics. It’s tantamount to a husband and wife arguing over how much they are borrowing on their credit card to pay for their respective wants, and then refusing to pay the credit card bill until one of the other capitulates.

For several years now, U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Marietta, has advocated a budgeting process that has some promise to make it harder to play politics with the federal budget and debt ceiling caps. That would also limit Congress and the White House’s ability to damage workers’ lives when they have these funding spats.

Under Isakson’s plan, one that he has co-introduced with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., Congress would move to a biennial budgeting process. In each two-year cycle, one year would be devoted to appropriating federal funds. The second year would be focused on oversight of federal programs.

On Monday, Isakson again took the floor of the Senate, arguing for the adoption of this budget method. The concept would force better public stewardship by a Congress that has shown absolutely no inclination to engage in it voluntarily.

“We are here today arguing over a continuing resolution that we shouldn’t have to argue over if we would have been budgeting and appropriating over the last four years,” Isakson said Monday. “There is bipartisan responsibility for not having adopted budgets or appropriations acts.

“Let’s add a simple resolution to the CR (Congressional Record) that changes our way of doing business to a biennial budget. The Isakson-Shaheen ‘Biennial Budgeting and Appropriations Act’ forces Congress to do our regular order of business of appropriating and budgeting and puts back in place the kind of discipline and responsibility that we really need around this place. Instead of arguing about what we can’t agree upon, we ought to find common ground and run our country like America’s households run their families. If we had to do in Washington what every American family has to do, this would be a different place.”

Indeed. If America didn’t have the world’s top economy — despite, it seems, Washington’s dedicated efforts to tank it — there’s a good chance many of our lines of credit would be snapped now.

That Washington needs to be more fiscally responsible — or fiscal responsible at all, many would argue — is a given. A great deal of the problem goes back to the basics, which includes budgeting. And that’s something that has not been done in years. Continuing resolutions and stop-gap action are no way to run a country, particularly not one as critical to the world’s economy as the United States.

Until voters start sending elected officials to Washington who care more about the nation than what the campaign donors and special-interest groups want, we can expect more of this paralysis in the Beltway. In the meantime, adoption of a biennial budget process would at least start forcing lawmakers who are there now to handle their most basic responsibility.

Change isn’t always progress, but this particular proposal, which had the support of more than two-thirds of the Senate when it was added as an amendment to the Senate’s budget bill, would be one for the better.

The Albany Herald Editorial Board