Sen. Mike Enzi says he has a plan to make sure the recent budget crisis in Washington won’t repeat itself in the coming months after Congress etched out a short-term solution last week.
With congressional appropriations set to dry once again on Jan. 15 and the nation’s borrowing limit to hit the debt ceiling by early February, the potential for a repeat standoff between Republicans and Democrats has the nation wondering if both chambers can work out a deal to prevent another fiasco in the U.S. Capitol.
Enzi has been lobbying peers in the Senate to support his three pieces of legislation. They Wyoming Republican says the legislation would strive to balance the budget, change the annual budgeting cycle and mandate spending cuts if lawmakers can’t pass the 12 annual spending bills that comprise the federal budget.
In the past 40 years, Congress has passed only four full-length federal budgets before the scheduled deadline of Sept. 30. The drama and the brinksmanship haven’t proved successful for either party in the polls and have many Americans distraught with less than a year remaining before the next election.
The agenda is a full plate for Enzi and a chance to show off some political muscle as he faces a 2014 GOP primary challenge from Liz Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney.
His strongest card in the game to prevent another crisis is legislation he’s been touting for years: The so-called penny plan.
The legislation gives Congress the authority to cut one cent from every dollar the
nation spends. Discretionary spending and mandatory spending programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid could all be subject to cuts, but the draft form of the law doesn’t specifically outline what has to go.
The worst would go first, said Dan Head, spokesman for Enzi.
In addition to the cuts imposed March 1 by sequestration, the penny plan would balance the budget in two years, Enzi said Monday. If it were to stay in place, the money saved by the plan would start to pay off the
$17 trillion debt, he said.
“It will probably have to be named something different for people to be able to claim it was their idea,” he said. “It will have to be some variation of that so we can at least see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
The variation to the original bill is likely to require tax increases on behalf of the Democrats, said Andrew Garner, assistant professor of political science at the University of Wyoming.
“I am skeptical that a spending cut approach by itself will solve the problem,” he said.
The plan is on par with Enzi’s no vote last week on the bill that ended the shutdown and increased the government’s ability to borrow more money.
Some political observers questioned whether Enzi voted no as a way to prevent Cheney from using it as fodder on the campaign trail.
Enzi said next year’s election had no influence on his vote.
“I am not interested in raising the debt limit,” he said.
Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., also cast a no vote on the bill that ended the crisis. She said Enzi has the right idea about addressing the nation’s debt.
“All options should be laid on the table when it comes to reining in Washington’s out-of-control spending,” she said in an email. “We cannot afford to continue kicking the can down the road.”
The idea to impose 1 percent cuts to any of the 12 appropriation bills not passed by the Sept. 30 deadline would offer lawmakers incentive to not wait until the last minute, Enzi said. Additionally, for every 90 days Congress doesn’t pass the spending bill, another 1 percent is cut.
The current system allows lawmakers to pass short-term bills that don’t make any changes in spending. An impasse over a short-term bill is what led to the partial federal government shutdown on Oct. 1, Enzi said.
Anything that can put pressure on Congress to pass a budget in a timely manner is a good thing, Garner said.
“With the politics, I am a little skeptical it is something that could pass the Democratic Senate,” he said.
The third piece of legislation Enzi is pushing would make the budgeting process a two-year project that would look similar to the way lawmakers in Wyoming do appropriations, the senator said.
It would give federal agencies more time to prepare for the upcoming years and would offer lawmakers more time to legislate rather than make last-minute deals, Enzi said.
“It’s a very interesting proposal, and I can see some receptivity to it,” Garner said. “I think there’s a general sense that people are tired of the brinksmanship and 11th-hour deals, and there’ s probably more receptivity to working the budget in a way that would minimize the drama.”