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Friday, January 28, 2011

Shaheen pushes change to 2-year federal budget

CONCORD – U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen is leading a Senate bipartisan effort to bring biennial or two-year budgeting to the federal government.

Shaheen and Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Georgia, said the system is broken by the fact only two of the last 30 annual federal budgets have been done on time.

“The difference here is it allows more time to get the budget prepared. This provides some ability for agencies to hopefully do a better job,” Shaheen said during a telephone interview. “What we have seen is the current budget process at the federal level hasn’t been working.”

A biennial change would allow budget writing in the odd-numbered year on Capitol Hill with even numbered or election years reserved for federal oversight.

“Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have an even numbered year in Congress (where) members weren’t talking about the pork they were bringing back home, they are talking about the savings they have found to fund programs in the future,” Isakson said at a Capitol Hill news conference unveiling their legislation.

Five GOP senators have told Isakson they will sign on to the reform, and Shaheen said she will lobby senators in her caucus to do the same.

“This is one of the things that should not be a partisan issue,” Shaheen said. “The process by which we do things I hope it is going to be a little easier to get consensus around as opposed to some of the specific solutions for getting the debt and deficit under control.”

A former, three term New Hampshire governor, Shaheen said she’s seen that two-year budgeting can work and leave more time for analysis as happens in this state as legislative budget auditors spend months doing performance audits of agency mission statements and spending practices.

Former New Hampshire Republican Sen. Judd Gregg, tried without success to accomplish this reform, which has its critics.

Officials with the Brooking Institution, the Congressional Budget Office and the General Accounting Office in the past have concluded the disadvantages outweigh the gains from this reform and contend it could protect the status quo, lead to more dated budget conclusions and not improve planning.

These groups note states are moving away from Shaheen’s desires for the federal government. In 1940, 41 states had two-year budgeting and now only 19 states do and only one of the eighth largest states – Ohio – employs two-year budgeting.

Shaheen recalls in the early 1990s there had been a push across the country for states to adopt annual budgets.

“Sometimes these things go in cycles. There are advantages and disadvantages to whatever we do,” Shaheen explained.

The Concord Coalition and non-partisan The Third Way have come out in support of the Shaheen-Isakson initiative.

Shaheen said she’s under no illusion that powerful interests with annual control of the purse strings on Capitol Hill will resist this sweeping change.

“Of course there are members of Congress that do not want to give up their power to give up making budget decisions every single year,” Shaheen said.

Isakson refused to rule out trying to achieve this reform as leverage for his vote to increase the federal debt ceiling.

Kevin Landrigan can be reached at 321-7040 or klandrigan@nashuatelegraph.com.