SHAHEEN: SHORT-TERM BUDGETING HURTS OUR ECONOMY

The Senator delivered the following remarks today on the Senate floor.

March 08, 2011

As prepared for delivery:

Mr. President, we have almost a nine percent unemployment rate in this country.  We have a 1.6 trillion dollar deficit.  Yet despite these enormous challenges, Congress has still not passed a federal budget for the year.  Congress’ deadline to pass 2011 appropriations bills was September 30th of last year, but Congress failed to meet that deadline. Last week, we passed our fifth short-term continuing resolution to keep the government open. At some point soon, I expect we will vote on the House Republicans’ package of reckless budget cuts that threaten our economic recovery.  After moving on from that, we will need to pass another continuing resolution by the end of next week to avert a government shutdown.

In China, India and Germany, they’re debating long-term investments in education, energy, technology and research.  Those are decisions with the potential to shape the global economy for decades.  Meanwhile, the United States is fighting about whether we’re going to keep the government open for two weeks. 

But short-term budgeting isn’t just hurting our future, it’s hurting our economy today.  Just last week I heard from a company in New Hampshire about the effects of Congress’ failure to pass a full-year budget.  Nitro Security in Portsmouth New Hampshire is a company at the forefront of the emergent cyber security industry.  Even in a difficult economy, they were named one of the 600 fastest growing private companies in the nation last year.  Yet despite most of their business coming from the private sector, Nitro Security also has significant contracts protecting data systems at the Department of Defense, NASA, and even the Food and Drug Administration.  They should be creating jobs and helping get our economy moving forward again.  But because Congress can’t conduct its business on time, stalled contracts mean stalled hiring.  We are missing out on jobs because Washington’s budget process is broken.

Congress needs to do better.  In the last 30 years, Congress has only completed the annual budget process on time twice.  That’s a seven percent success rate. 

Solving our long-term deficit problems and reinvigorating our economy will require tough choices, but we’ll never be able to make those choices until we change the way Washington does business. 

That’s why I’ve joined Senator Isakson in proposing the Biennial Budgeting and Appropriations Act, to bring sorely needed oversight and long-term planning to the federal budget process.  Our legislation would dedicate the first year of a Congress to appropriating federal dollars while devoting the second year to scrutinizing federal programs to determine if they are working and deserve continued funding.

Because of annual budgeting, members of Congress don’t have the time they need to conduct careful, thorough reviews of federal programs.  Federal agency staff dedicate countless hours every year to justifying their own existence, rather than accomplishing critical missions.  As a result, we continue to spend money on projects that are duplicative, failing or no longer useful. 

In fact, just last week the Government Accountability Office released a landmark report on government duplication and overlap.  The report reveals that in as many as 34 different areas across the federal government, agencies are offering overlapping services to similar populations.  Eliminating these duplicative programs is the type of reform we should be considering, not making reckless cuts to essential services and local priorities. 

The Memorial Bridge, which connects New Hampshire and Maine, is a critical economic engine for the surrounding region.  Even though it has been recognized as a national priority and enjoys support from the Maine and New Hampshire Senate delegations, a project to replace the bridge is being threatened by ill-considered, reckless cuts in the House of Representatives’ continuing resolution.  These are the consequences of short-term budgetary thinking.

In another example, the Bureau of Prisons recently completed construction of a 276 million dollar federal prison in Berlin, which is in the far northern part of my state.  As construction was wrapping up, the BOP requested activation funding for fiscal year 2011 to hire rank-and-file officers and open this facility.  But, because we are operating on a CR that fails to account for these types of situations, we have a state-of-the-art 276 million dollar prison just sitting – vacant.  We have a warden just waiting to hire staff.  The BOP needs the 1280 inmate beds that this facility will provide.  The community needs the 40 million dollar annual economic impact and 340 jobs this facility will provide.  Yet, none of these important objectives are being met because Washington’s budget process is broken.  Instead, the Bureau of Prisons is spending 4 million dollars a year to maintain an empty building. 

As members of Congress, we are entrusted with the responsibility of spending taxpayer dollars wisely.  Our current budget and spending process makes it all too easy for waste and inefficiency to remain hidden.  At the same time, important priorities are neglected by the whims of a chaotic annual budget process.  Switching to biennial budgeting won’t solve all of our problems, but it would be a step toward greater oversight, increased accountability, and a more responsible government.

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