In its June 14 editorial on the budget process ("Budget Questions: Reform"), The Post seems to suggest that the way for Congress to prevent the budgetary chaos of recent months is not to change the procedures, but to stop being so political. That's like telling people to deal with air pollution by not breathing.
There's no question that the Budget Act of 1974 was a major improvement over what had been a haphazard and virtually uncontrollable process. But in the last few years, the new process has resulted in constantly missed deadlines, duplication of effort, and the need to "reinvent the wheel" every time a budget resolution, authorization measure, appropriations bill, continuing resolution or debt- ceiling extension comes along.
Our preoccupation with budget issues leaves little time for other legislation, not to mention oversight of the executive agencies. To the public, Congress seems hamstrung by its own procedures and unable to cope with the urgent problems of the nation.
The need for reforms in the federal budget process seems clear. Here are some of the most important:
First, the government should shift from a one-year to a two-year budget cycle, to begin on Jan. 1 of even-numbered years. As our experience last year and this has shown, setting national priorities through the budget process is too time-consuming and too politically charged to be accomplished in a few weeks at the beginning of each year --especially election years. Congress should pass a single, binding budget resolution by May 31 of every odd- numbered year, setting revenue and spending levels for the following two-year budget cycle. This step would streamline the process and make Congress more accountable to the public for its budgetary decisions.
Second, we should consolidate the 13 separate appropriations bills into a single two-year appropriation. This bill, as well as authorization measures, would be passed by Oct. 15, leaving the second year of the cycle free for new authorization and deauthorization bills and oversight.
Third, reconciliation of appropriations with outlay levels established by the budget resolution should be in order at any time after passage of the budget resolution. This would let Congress adjust spending priorities to meet changing economic and social conditions while remaining within the overall spending targets set by the budget resolution.
Fourth, revisions in the budget resolution to allow for economic emergencies or other unforeseen circumstances should be discouraged by requiring such changes to receive a two-thirds vote in both the Senate and House. This would make it much easier for Congress to reconcile appropriations with budget ceilings by a reordering of priorities --that is, by increasing funds for some programs while reducing funds for others--than by raising spending levels. In my view, this is the only way to impose real fiscal discipline on a Congress that has repeatedly demonstrated its inability to balance the federal budget.
Fifth, we should end the deceptive practice of funding some federal activities "off budget," exempting them from competition with other government functions for available resources. This proposal will elicit howls of pain from those who are receiving preferential treatment in the allocation of federal funds. But fairness, not to mention honesty with the American public, demand that we stop playing games with the taxpayers' dollars and start dealing with all government expenditures in a unified budget.
These proposals have been incorporated in S.2629, the Budget Reform Act of 1982, which I introduced in the Senate this week. I believe these reforms are essential if we are to prevent the budget process from collapsing under its own weight. The alternative would be more budgetary debacles like this year's--and that is an alternative that the American people simply will not accept.