Congress should do something about reining in “mandatory” spending, but, in the end, the only way for lawmakers to improve the budgeting process is to do a better job of working together.
Alice Rivlin and Rudolph Penner, former directors of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), came to that conclusion today during a hearing on the “broken budget process” that was organized by the House Budget Committee.
“There is no doubt that the budget process is broken,” Rivlin testified, according to a written version of her remarks posted on the committee website.
Rivlin, who directed the CBO when it started up back in 1975, said the clearest evidence of the breakdown is the existence of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction – the 12-member “Super Committee” that is supposed to find $1.2 trillion in deficit reductions by Thanksgiving.
Rivlin said she is optimistic that the Super Committee will succeed.
But, even if the Super Committee succeeds, “the budget process has failed,” Rivlin said. “Our much-vaunted democracy should not have to abandon its normal decision processes and concentrate power in the hands of an ad hoc group to solve a budget problem.”
Changes in the budgeting process could help, but “bad process is a symptom, not a cause of unwillingness to make the compromises necessary to solve hard problems,” Rivlin said. “No process will work well unless the participants in the process want it to work.”