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disposal, I believe your committee can aid us in this task and in the endeavors we will make beyond this hopeful season, by recommending the kinds of organizational changes that will enhance the workings of Congress and the quality of its policy product. I wish you well in this endeavor and thank you for this opportunity to share my thoughts with you.
[The statement of Mr. Price is printed in the Appendix.]
Chairman HAMILTON. Well, Mr. Price, thank you very much. I am quite impressed by your statement. I hope that we will have an opportunity to work closely with you in the weeks ahead as this committee begins to spell out its options and make some tough choices.
I am not going to give you a lot of questions, but I am interested in one I would like to get your quick judgment on. You noted in your statement that in 1974 we stumbled on the question of committee jurisdictions. I am one of those who stumbled, and I stumbled pretty hard, as I recall.
What is your political sense of that? Right now, should this Joint Committee tackle the question of committee jurisdictions in a frontal, head-on, major way or not? Or is it so tough that we ought to punt?
Mr. PRICE. It depends on what you regard as a frontal assault. I don't think you ought to approach this task as though you were starting from ground zero. There are many changes one might make if one was starting from scratch. But as I said, in reference to the Appropriations subcommittees, it seems to me, although those subcommittees have rather odd pieces of turf, in some cases rather unequal work loads, the coordination works actually pretty well, because House and Senate differences don't get in our way. A minimalist strategy is an attempt to respond to that. I believe I would concentrate on straightening out House/Senate differences, but yes, I would tackle that. I think it is major obstacle.
Chairman HAMILTON. You certainly at this point wouldn't take it off the agenda.
Mr. PRICE. No, sir.
Mr. DREIER. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I would like to follow along that line.
Thank you very much for what is very helpful testimony, David. I look forward to working closely with you as we proceed in this process.
Mr. PRICE. Thank you.
Mr. DREIER. You talk about synchronization. We have called it symmetry; there are a wide range of other words to try and figure out how we can mesh jurisdictions between the House and the Senate on committees.
The question I would like to ask is, what are your thoughts about reducing the number of committees that are here? When we heard from Senator Byrd on Tuesday, he talked about fractured attention in the Congress; and it seems to me that with 299 committees and subcommittees here, that we really should look at the goal of trying to reduce that number. And I wondered what your thoughts are on that.
Mr. PRICE. I think it is a problem. I think it is more of a problem in the Senate than it is in the House, because Members are so
much more thinly spread in that body. But it is a problem in the House, as well.
And I think cutting back or cutting out the select committees and getting those functions under the standing committees where they should be, cutting back on the number of subcommittees, I think those moves make sense. I don't think it is-I don't think it is totally, though, without some countervailing considerations, you know. We do need multiple points in the House where Members can be involved and can be productive, and subcommittees do have a great deal of value in generating information, generating initiatives. You know, we don't want to shut all that down.
And in the House of Representatives
Mr. DREIER. But would you support the idea of any kind of reduction in the number of committees, other than simply the select committees?
Mr. PRICE. I would support certainly the extent of subcommittee reduction that we have already engaged in and looking at that further. It may be that some of the minor committees could be folded into major committees. I think it ought to be on your agenda.
Mr. DREIER. What do you consider minor committees?
Mr. PRICE. Well, the so-called "non-major committees." I don't know when that term of art was developed.
Mr. DREIER. You can name by committee chairmen if you don't want to name the committees.
Mr. PRICE. I think that ought to be on your plate. I guess my hesitancy stems not just from thinking about the way those committees specifically operate some of them are very useful. But also, I do think, just the loose talk about too many committees and too many subcommittees needs to be examined carefully, because there are some advantages that we gain. You know, the other half of those 1970s reforms spread around authority and resources in this place; gave Members a lot more opportunities to be productive. I don't want to shut that down.
But I do think it has gone past the point of diminishing returns and that we should consolidate to some extent. I would think that that would be a major item for your committee's deliberations. Mr. DREIER. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Chairman HAMILTON. Mr. Spratt.
Mr. SPRATT. We had a lecture from Senator Byrd that was useful last week on the appropriations process. Since you have been on the Appropriations Committee for a term or two, do you have any views about first of all, biennial budgeting; and second, about the two-step authorization-appropriations process we have?
Mr. PRICE. Well, I am, of course, not a disinterested witness on that subject, but I think the talk about biennial budgeting is something that you ought to attend to. There would be some real advantages to gaining a longer perspective, doing more multiyear planning in the budget process. I am not sure that putting the appropriations committees on a 2-year cycle is a very promising or very realistic remedy to that, you know, through the budget process. After all, that is in many respects already a multiyear process-the reconciliation bills, the multiyear projections that are made there. I think to the extent that we can do that and can develop more long-term approaches, that is all to the good. But I would not hold
out a great deal of hope for biennial budgeting or biennial appropriations on the Appropriations Committee. In fact, I would observe, you know, in those States where they have attempted to institute these processes, often these off-year appropriations sessions blossom into more or less full-blown appropriations sessions. I just think the kind of economic and political realities that we face make this kind of annual review a necessity.
So the budget process, yes, it needs to be more long term, but I would not suggest literally a 2-year appropriations bill.
Mr. SPRATT. As you think about committee reorganization, it has occurred to me that if we did muster the courage to take that on and also muster the majority to get it passed in the House—which would be formidable, nevertheless I think is something we should address-but if we rationalized the jurisdiction of various committees like your old committee, the Banking Committee, and made it sort of a financial institutions/financial transactions committee, one downside risk of that would be that the committee membership would become stratified.
One advantage-in other words, the Members would tend to be Members who were basically supportive of banks and financial institutions and had an interest in that. By keeping the jurisdiction mixed as we have, we have had kind of a mix of Members on these committees, and consequently, legislation has not tended to be tilted one way or the other; it comes out as kind of a better-better compromise of the majority of Members of that committee.
A good example would be, if we had an environment committee here, I think it would probably-the Members who would have strong environmental constituencies and strong green environmental tendencies themselves would probably belong to that committee and it would become a very staunchly pro environmental committee and it would lose some of the balance that you probably get now by having Energy and Commerce with its mixed membership of jurisdiction over there.
Mr. PRICE. That is a very good point; and one of the main goals, I believe, of whatever reorganization we undertake should be to counter a narrow kind of particularism, whether it is on subcommittees or committees or wherever, and that would be that should be on your minds as you think about committee jurisdictions.
I don't happen to think that the division of banking and securities regulations, as it now takes place in the House, is a very productive division of labor. I think putting that into one committee, as it is in the Senate, would be plenty of-a balanced interest, believe me, in that kind of committee.
But when we talk about strengthening party operations, when we talk about cutting back some on these select committees and subcommittees, the one thing we are talking about is forcing a broader view on ourselves, forcing a broader view on ourselves so that we are looking more at the general interests and deferring less to narrow, particular interests. That is a generalization, but I do think it bears relation to what goes on here, and it should be on your minds as you consider these jurisdictional lines.
Mr. SPRATT. Thanks for your testimony. We look forward to getting your advice and input as we go along.
Chairman HAMILTON. Thank you very much, Mr. Price. We will go on to other witnesses. We appreciate your appearance.
I will ask if Mr. Cox and Mr. Zimmer will come forward.
You are testifying together, I believe, are you not? Why don't you just sit at the table, and we will have you go one after the other.
Mr. ZIMMER. I endorse everything Mr. Cox has to say.
Chairman HAMILTON. We would like you to keep your testimony to about 5 minutes, if you can.
Mr. Cox, we are delighted to have you, sir, and appreciate your appearance this morning. You may proceed.
STATEMENT OF THE HON. CHRISTOPHER COX, A U.S.
Mr. Cox. Mr. Chairman and Members of the committee, I am delighted to have the opportunity to appear before you, because I am convinced that changing the process will have a direct bearing on getting better results. Frankly, none of our constituents, no American is really concerned with the process per se; everyone is focused on getting better results. But the two are inextricably connected. The principal result that people would like to see from Congress is better control over the purse strings, and when we are not in the act of declaring war, that is our principal responsibility in the U.S. Congress, controlling the purse strings.
Yesterday, the Director of the Congressional Budget Office, Robert Reischauer, told our Budget Committee on which I serve that if we continue on our present course, we will in just a few years be running up annual deficits amounting to the better part of $1 trillion each year. We all recognize that we have got to change. We recognize that we cannot continue on our present course. The simple truth is this: The chronic failure to control the purse strings of the Federal treasury is the inevitable result of a poorly designed congressional budget process, which not only permits, but encourages violation of the very laws designed to force rational choices among competing priorities. The current process virtually guarantees wasteful spending and budget chaos.
Any sincere effort at deficit reduction, therefore, has got to begin by addressing our badly broken-down Federal budget process. Not the least among the abuses in the current system is the fact that very few people understand how the system works-and that includes Members of the U.S. Congress, even within Congress itself. Terms like current services, baseline, section 302(B) allocation, and undirected office setting receipts produce, in many cases, blank stares. The Budget committees, which should have the incentive and the opportunity to understand the process, are powerless to enforce the Budget Act's rules.
On February 1, just a few days ago, President Clinton broke the 1974 Act's requirement that the budget be submitted by February 1. Now, ignorance or violation of the deadlines of that law are so common that no one even takes notice. There is no question that the April 15 deadline for conclusion of the budget resolution will probably be missed and broken again; there is no question that the June 30 deadline for completion of all 13 appropriations bills and
passage of reconciliation will be broken, ignored and violated again. And what has happened is that the budget process itself has moved away from what is provided in law and toward a totally extralegal process understood by no one, manipulated by a very few. So to repair the process, we have got to design a system with teeth in it to make sure that Congress doesn't again abandon the system for some less restrictive expedient.
During the past 6 years I have been working with a number of people, first in the White House and then in Congress, on a total overhaul of the 1974 Budget Act, and I believe that with Democratic control of the White House, in the executive branch, we are now in a position to move forward on these reforms. Frankly in past years, with divided control of government in Washington, there was always a jealousy between the executive and the legislative, so that any kind of reorganization of the process was thought to mean a transfer of power from Republicans to Democrats, or from Democrats to Republicans, and we stalled. Now, that reason for inaction is gone, and rationalization of the process is possible.
To accomplish the objective of reorganizing the process, I proposed sweeping legislation to rewrite the 1974 Budget Act. It is sponsored already by over 150 Members of the Congress, and it bears review by this committee.
To accomplish the objectives, here are the very simple reforms. First, we have to have a budget in advance of any spending. The requirement must be inviolable, that there be a budget in place in the formidable law before authorizing or spending decisions are taken. This would require Congress to enact a legally binding budget signed into law by the President or passed over his veto by May 15 of each year.
Until the budget law is in place, it would be out of order in the Senate and in the House and in any committee or subcommittee even to debate or consider any authorizing or appropriating legislation.
Now, Congressman Spratt asked just a moment ago about the dual allocation of responsibility between authorizing and appropriating committees. Frankly, this is one of the ways that the system breaks down. Your committee may decide that we should eliminate that duality. If we don't do that, at the very least we should make sure that both the authorizing committees and the appropriating committees live under the same budget rules. I have served for 4 years on an authorizing committee, and frankly, the committees tend to just say "yes" to everything, figuring the appropriators will take care of it later. That puts built-in pressure into the system to spend money that we all know we haven't got.
Second, once the budget is in place in the form of a joint resolution-one page, 19 functions corresponding to those already maintained by CBO and OMB then the President submits his detailed budget submission, not before. The idea is to get Congress, Democrats and Republicans, the White House and the legislative branch, to agree in the abstract on what is good for the country before we get down to the nitty-gritty of whose ox is being gored. That will make it much more likely that we reach agreement and do so on time.