November 07, 2019

Van Hollen Statement on the Bipartisan Congressional Budget Reform Act

Following passage of the Bipartisan Congressional Budget Reform Act in the Senate Budget Committee, U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen submitted the following statement for inclusion in the committee report accompanying the bill:

I supported advancing the Bipartisan Congressional Budget Reform Act in the Senate Budget Committee to move the process forward on the impoundment control measures adopted by the committee on a bipartisan basis, but I have strong reservations about other aspects of this legislation that must be addressed before I support this legislation on the Senate floor.

I oppose the special reconciliation instructions in Title IV of the bill, and I supported the amendment to strike that title from the bill. This special reconciliation process is triggered in the second year of the budget resolution if CBO projects that the debt-to-GDP ratio will exceed the budget resolution’s target. This is especially likely to happen when the economy is in recession – sending exactly the wrong signal to push Congress towards fiscal austerity when economic recovery measures are most desperately needed. I am especially concerned that this process reduces transparency and accountability in ways that could make it easier for a future Congress to make deeply destructive cuts to important middle-class programs like Medicare and Medicaid.

I am also concerned about Title VII of the bill, which curtails the rights of Senators to offer amendments to a budget resolution. This eliminates one of the few places where Senators have an open amendment process, replacing it with a system in which the Majority Leader and Minority Leader will take turns deciding which amendment gets a vote. I support the structured amendment process in the bill only if Senators can still offer amendments at the end of that process.

I voted to advance this legislation through the committee because it now includes urgently needed reforms to reassert the Congressional power of the purse. I offered an amendment to include provisions in this bill to strengthen the Impoundment Control Act of 1974, in order to prevent any administration from permanently withholding funds for Congressionally-mandated programs. This committee sent a powerful signal by adopting the amendment on a bipartisan basis.

The Impoundment Control Act allows the President to withhold funds for up to 45 days after proposing legislation to Congress to rescind those funds, but the funds must be released unless Congress passes that rescission legislation. President Trump has repeatedly considered abusing this rule to withhold funds that are about to expire, thereby cancelling them regardless of whether Congress passes a rescission bill. The Government Accountability Office has determined that this would be illegal, and the amendment passed by the Senate Budget Committee as part of this legislation builds on that legal opinion with stronger rules to ensure that funds are made available for obligation before they expire.

Additionally, the amendment requires increased disclosure of how the Executive Branch is making funds available to be spent. This would reveal situations where the Executive Branch is withholding funds without telling Congress – as was recently uncovered with Ukrainian foreign aid, and which the Government Accountability Office discovered in 2017 at the Energy Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency.

I hope that Congress will act decisively to enact these reforms to the Impoundment Control Act, and look forward to working with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to consider how to best reform the budget process.