Witt: It’s time to fix the federal budget process

As was recently demonstrated, the federal budget process is broken. The federal government shutdown which occurred for a few days in the latter part of January is just a concrete example of why this is true.

Ordinarily — and this process hasn’t been performed in an ordinary manner for a very long time — the process begins in February when the president is supposed to present his proposed budget to Congress.

Congress — both houses — then begin to examine the budget as presented and dissect it, most often a very messy process since 535 members of Congress each have their own pet projects which they want to see funded, and others which they want to dispense with.

The final budget which gets sent back to the president later in the year is never the same as the one which left the White House. Budgets presented by each house of Congress are never exactly the same and must reach final reconciliation before one draft is returned to the president.

This entire process is supposed to be completed by Oct. 1.

This never happens.

And the result is a series of “continuing resolutions,” passed by Congress, designed to keep the government running until a final budget can be agreed.

In January, the Senate could not even agree on a continuing resolution for about three days, so the government could not legally continue to operate. Of course, finagling and shenanigans within Congressional rules allow certain critical operations within the government to continue to operate, things like air traffic control, the military, etc., even though individuals working in these areas may have to forego getting paid for a period of time.

Obviously, this is no way to run a government, at least not one which should run with some degree of efficiency and according to tenets firmly established for that operation to continue without interruption.

It certainly seems strange that so many people who work in government face furloughs and loss of income when these events transpire while, at the same time, those who are responsible for the problem, continue to draw their pay and go about their daily activities without hindrance and without a suspension of pay, i.e. the members of Congress.

Yes, the very people who are responsible for creating the problem are the ones least affected by its results.

So, here’s a possible solution.

First, Congress shall follow the law. A final budget must be on the president’s desk and signed no later than Oct. 1 each year.

If the budget is not submitted back to the president at that time, all pay to all members of Congress and their entire staff will be suspended until such time as the budget is finalized.

If, over time, this is not sufficient to get a budget on time, the rule will be changed and the pay that is cut off for Congress and staff will not be re-instituted once the budget is finally submitted. In other words, pay for the period of time without a budget will be forfeited.

Of course, since Congress makes all the rules affecting itself, the likelihood of this happening is approximately the same as every American winning the Powerball lottery simultaneously or of being struck by lightning twice.

Chuck Witt is a retired architect and a lifelong resident of Winchester. He can be reached at chuck740@bellsouth.net.