Ernst, Lankford, and Perdue Introduce The "No Budget, No Recess" Act

Jan 17, 2019 | Budget Process

Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA), along with Senators Lankford (R-OK) and Perdue (R-GA), today introduced the "No Budget, No Recess" Act." The legislation would provide incentives for lawmakers to approve a budget resolution by the deadline of April 15 and all the appropriations bills by August 1.

The bill contains three major changes. First, if lawmakers fail to meet either deadline, no Member of Congress would be allowed to  expend funds for official travel. Second, two quorum calls would be held each day in both the House and Senate: one at noon and one at 6:00 p.m, under the theory that it would be embarrassing for lawmakers to miss votes repeatedly and thus they would be incentivized to stay in Washington. Finally, it would be out of order for either the House or Senate to recess for more than eight hours until lawmakers satisfy the deadline they had missed. Hopefully, the prospect of losing the typically month-long August recess would move lawmakers to complete their work.

During the 115th Congress, these lawmakers all served on the Joint Select Committee on Budget and Appropriations Process Reform (JSC) and were tasked with developing recommendations to significantly reform the budget and appropriations process. This bill is a combination of the amendments introduced by legislators during markup. Unfortunately, the JSC failed to report recommendations, but the introduction of this bill is a hopeful step that lawmakers will build on the work done by the JSC in the current Congress.

The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget supports changes that make it more likely for lawmakers to meet budget deadlines. We recommended changes to help lawmakers end crisis-driven budgeting, including both incentives (e.g., expedited procedures if Congress is overdue) or disincentives like preventing lawmakers from leaving for recess or making it more difficult to consider other legislation. We reaffirmed our support in a later memo to the JSC for incentives or disincentives, including travel restrictions until a budget resolution is adopted.

In her testimony before the JSC, Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget president Maya MacGuineas testified that “Too often, Congress does not even complete a budget resolution. That is a true abdication of responsibility and it should not be acceptable to any of us…” As the current government shutdown illustrates, failure to meet fiscal deadlines reaps dire consequences for hundreds of thousands of federal employees and dozens of federal agencies and departments. Yet Congress adjourned for the holidays while seven major appropriations bills remained in limbo. A measure like the No Budget, No Recess Act would have provided an additional incentive for lawmakers to stay until a solution to the outstanding appropriations bills was found. Notably, Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO), who also served on the JSC, introduced a resolution last Congress with Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) that would incentivize Senators to stay in Washington during a shutdown.

These reforms would make the budget process stronger, but ultimately, reforming the federal budget process is not a substitute for the political willpower needed to make difficult, but fiscally responsible, choices. We support bipartisan work to fix our broken budget process and commend Ernst, Lankford, and Perdue for introducing this legislation. For more of our budget process work, check out our Better Budget Process Initiative.