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Federal budget process needs improvement

Sen. Joni Ernst offers legislation to make it work better

President Donald Trump has forwarded to Congress his proposed federal budget for the fiscal year that begins on Oct. 1. Deciding what our national government should spend and how those expenditures should be funded was set out in our Constitution as the job of Congress. In recent decades, however, each president’s budget recommendations have been at the heart of the process. That document has become the focal point for congressional deliberations about budget policies and appropriations.

Unfortunately, however, Congress doesn’t handle these crucial duties very well. Adopting a budget and approving the appropriations bills needed to fund the government should be a top priority. Sadly, for decades Congress has repeatedly failed to get these basic tasks accomplished before the start of the federal fiscal year.

As a consequence, there have been numerous short-term funding measures — kicking the funding decisions down the road rather than making them by Oct. 1, the start of the fiscal year. Additionally, there have been shutdowns and short-term funding lapses. In many of the last 20 years, Congress has never even managed to adopt a budget.

U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst has been a strong critic of the way budget and appropriations decisions have been handled by Congress. Since becoming a member of the Senate in 2015, the Iowa Republican has made a series of constructive suggestions that she contends would bring about a more orderly process. Now as Congress begins to consider Trump’s budget plan she has introduced the MAKE CENTS Act. That title is shorthand for the Making Americans Know About Excessive Spending Through Commonsense Efforts to Notice and Target Shenanigans Act. It is a package of practical reforms to the federal budget and appropriations processes that will create more transparency and accountability.It incorporates and adds to suggestions Ernst has put forward in earlier bills that haven’t yet become law.

“There’s really no way to sugar coat it: Washington’s budget process is broken,” Ernst said of her legislation. “The president submits his budget, the House tears it up (no pun intended), and fails to pass its own budget. Then Congress kicks the can down the road on funding the government before cramming through a budget busting bill at the 11th hour. This dysfunctional process and lack of transparency allows wasteful spending to continue year after year.”

Here is some of what Ernst is proposing through this bill:

• An annual report listing every government funded project that is $1 billion or more over budget or five years or more behind schedule.

• A requirement that every project supported with federal funds to include a price tag that is easily available for taxpayers.

• Elimination of the “use-it or lose-it” incentive many government agencies feel at the end of the year by limiting an agency’s spending in the last two months of the fiscal year to no more than the average it spent per month during the preceding 10 months.

• No recess for Congress if it has not approved a budget by April 15 or passed all appropriation bills by Aug. 1. If that happens, Ernst wants lawmakers stay at work in Washington until they get this important work finished.

• No pay for Congress if it fails to meet the statutory deadline for passing a budget resolution or fails to fund the government by Oct. 1.

The Messenger applauds Ernst for introducing this measure. Businesses and other organizations are expected to develop budgets and make spending decisions in an orderly fashion. Failing to get the work done properly and on time just isn’t acceptable elsewhere in our society. That same standard should be true for Congress.