Biennial Budgeting Will Help Fix Washington's Broken Budget System

Every year, Congress is required to pass a budget as well as 12 different appropriations bills to fund the government for the upcoming fiscal year. These appropriations bills allocate federal spending priorities. Each year however, Congress consistently fails to pass a budget and the appropriations bills on time. Since 2001, Congress has only enacted 8.3% of appropriations bills before the deadline. Congress then relies on short-term spending bills that create more economic uncertainty and disdain among the American people. As a result, Congress wastes billions of dollars allocating funds to programs that are wasteful and duplicative because it doesn't have enough time to properly review those departments and agencies and their budget and spending activities.

It's worse in election years. In the past eight election years, Congress has failed to even pass a budget 75% of the time. This is a clear failure to govern. In order to foster greater economic certainty, create a better functioning and more efficient federal government, Congressman Ribble believes the government should convert to a biennial budgeting system. Twenty states, including Wisconsin, use a biennial system and have seen great results. That is why Congressman Ribble introduced H.R. 1869, The Biennial Budgeting and Enhanced Oversight Act of 2013. This legislation has 142 bipartisan cosponsors.

Update: On February 11, 2014, the House Budget Committee approved Congressman Ribble's  biennial budgeting legislation on a strong 22-10 bipartisan vote. Current U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew - who previously served as President Obama's White House Chief of Staff and Office of Management and Budget Director - supports biennial budgeting. Recently, Congressman Ribble posed several questions about biennial budgeting to Secretary Lew, and below are excerpts from Mr. Lew's responses:

Q: Over the years, numerous examples of committee testimony and news reports have shown that you support Congress switching from its current annual budget process to biennial budgeting. Do you still support Congress adopting biennial budgeting?

A: "I have previously expressed support for a biennial budget and appropriations process. I believe such a process would enhance Congress' ability to oversee and assess the effectiveness of programs receiving federal dollars."

Q: The House Budget Committee approved H.R. 1869, the Biennial Budgeting and Enhanced Oversight Act of 2014 on a strong 22-10 bipartisan vote. Does the administration believe this legislation would improve the current budget process?

A: "The idea of biennial budgeting has the potential to facilitate greater budgetary certainty, better agency planning, and more time to focus on execution and effectiveness, but only if all parties agree to make it work."

Q: What, if any, additional budget process recommendations would you or the Administration support in order to ensure a more efficient budget process?

A: "The most important thing that we can do to ensure a more efficient budget process is to return to a regular, predicable bipartisan process that provides budget levels and appropriations in a timely fashion."

To view the entire response from Treasury Secretary Lew, please click here.

Biennial budgeting is supported by the following organizations:

Americans for Tax Reform - a center-right organization

"The bill could reverse current practices that are biased towards waste, not prudence. Agencies are rarely able to plan effectively in the shortened budget windows created by stopgap measures. As such, most develop a “use it or lose it” mentality, spending billions in the last few weeks of the year to avoid having their baselines reduced the following year." Click here to read the full support letter.

The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget - a non-partisan budget organization

"The primary benefit of a biennial budget cycle is the extra time it permits Congress and the White House to take a more careful look at our budget and federal programs, particularly those currently on auto-pilot. In order to fix our pressing fiscal problems, we must go through our spending and tax policies with a fine-toothed comb and determine what works, what needs fixing, and what doesn't work." Click here to read the full support letter.

Third Way - a center-left organization

"A comprehensive biennial budget cycle would also encourage more vigorous oversight of federal programs. This improvement would help reorient congressional responsibility away from simply spending money, and towards effective stewardship of the nation. America's fiscal health depends to a great extent on the dedication of congressional oversight. With such a process, budget reform would become a critical part of smart fiscal policy." Click here to read the full support letter.

Concord Coalition - a nonpartisan budget watchdog

"Lurching from crisis to crisis is not budgeting but chaos. A switch to biennial budgeting could provide some much-needed stability in the budget process and help to avoid the wasteful rush of deadline-driven decisions that simply push money out the door." Click here to read the full support letter.

Update: Click here to read Concord Coalition's blog post on House Budget Committee passage of biennial budgeting.

National Taxpayers Union - a center-right organization

"Currently, many agencies operate under a "use it or lose it" philosophy at the end of the fiscal year...One option for reducing this practice would be converting to biennial budgeting [to fix our broken budget process]. Representative Reid Ribble (R-WI) has introduced bipartisan legislation, H.R. 1869, to do so." Click here to read the full testimony.

Council for Citizens Against Government Waste - a nonpartisan budget watchdog

"Specifically, the proposed reform would force Congress to become better stewards of the taxpayers’ money by placing Congress on a two-year budget cycle, with one year devoted to appropriating federal dollars and the other year devoted to oversight of federal programs." Click here to read the article supporting biennial budgeting.

No Labels - a nonpartisan group dedicated to making government work

"Congress, especially in an election year, has a bad track record of completing the budget process. Passing the budget and appropriations bills in off years will allow Congress to focus on overseeing the effectiveness of federal programs during election years." Click here to learn about No Labels' support.

Bipartisan Policy Center

"...we think the stature and image of Congress can be improved without sacrificing the political differences between the parties if Members are given a clearer stake in making a difference for the country through their legislative efforts in committee and on the floor.  Biennial budgeting is one important way to provide the time and creative space for that to happen." Click here to view their testimony. 

ICYMI: Ribble op-ed published in the Green Bay Press-Gazette: Bring a slice of Wisconsin to nation's budget process

Click the picture below to view Congressman Ribble's recent floor speech on biennial budgeting.

Click here to view the press release on Mr. Ribble's biennial budgeting legislation. Below are a few bullet points on H.R. 1869.

The Biennial Budgeting and Enhanced Oversight Act of 2013

  • Establishes a two-year, “biennial” budgeting cycle for U.S. government
  • Year 1 of biennium (odd-numbered years): Congress would draft and adopt a budget plan covering the next two years. This plan would provide the framework for the consideration of legislation with fiscal implications over the course of the entire Congress.
  • Year 2 of biennium (even-numbered years): Congress would focus on conducting detailed oversight of government agencies and programs.
  • Biennial process would provide more budget stability and certainty by doing away with the current ad-hoc appropriation process.  Federal departments and agencies would know a full year in advance the resources they will have available, giving them the ability to plan into the future and implement cost-saving measures to make the most of every dollar.

Recently, H.R. 1869 surpassed 100 bipartisan House cosponsors. Click here to view the press release.