Senate Budget chair: What's the point of my committee?

Old and busted, Capitol Hill edition: Make America great again! New hotness: “Make budgets valuable again!” The return of trillion-dollar annual deficits make the proposition that Congress actually “budgets” a ludicrous idea, says the current chair of the Senate Budget Committee. So why bother with the pretense?

The chairman of the Senate Budget Committee is floating the idea of getting rid of the Budget panel altogether, according to Republican sources.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) has noted that mounting deficits are making it much tougher to pass a spending blueprint, the sources say. …

Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.), a member of the joint budget-reform panel and a member of the Senate Budget Committee, said Enzi is floating to colleagues the possibility of getting rid of the Budget panel entirely.

“Mike Enzi has said publicly that, given the size of the shortfall that’s built up over the last decade, that we may not be able to produce a budget ever again under the rules of the 1974 Budget Act,” Perdue said. …

“He also said that, given the lack of functionality of the Budget Committee, that we really don’t need a Budget Committee. We could do away with it. And I agree with that,” Perdue added, summarizing their conversation.

It’s not as though Enzi’s way off base here. Theoretically, the budget committees are supposed to come up with resolutions setting the parameters of spending, while Appropriations deals with specific spending requests within those parameters. In practice, especially over the last decade or so, budget resolutions have become relevant only to the extent that they enable reconciliation vehicles.

Budget parameters have been hammered out largely by party leaders rather than in budget committees, making Enzi more or less a rubber stamp. The most recent budget process is a sterling example of this; it took $300 billion in extra spending to finish the FY2018 budget, and the agreement took the FY2019 budget out of the hands of Enzi and his committee too.  It’s not tough to see why he’d rather get rid of the committee; who needs the aggravation?

How does this get fixed, though? Neither party seems willing to work on a consensus basis for budget appropriations, or for that matter with any sense of budgetary discipline. Instead, they take turns running up the deficit as the majority and scolding the other side when in the minority, while eventually agreeing on ever-escalating spending. If Congress doesn’t want budget discipline, then they don’t need Budget Committees in either chamber, either. All they need are appropriators.

Supposedly this is part of an effort to reform the process now. It clearly needs reform, and Congress needs to start making tough decisions about deficit spending and debt, much of which comes from entitlement programs that are hurtling toward collapse. But it seems very, very doubtful that the same Congress that just passed a $300 billion increase in spending over the next two years has any desire to handcuff itself in any meaningful way. Even if the Budget Committee remains, Enzi needn’t bother holding any meetings.