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Testimony by Don R. Wolfensberger to the Joint Select Committee on Budget and Appropriations Process Reform

BPC Fellow Donald R. Wolfensberger testified before the Joint Select Committee on Budget and Appropriations Process Reform. The testimony is his own view and does not reflect the views of the institutions he is associated with. 

Joint Committee Co-Chairs and committee members:

First, congratulations on being appointed to this committee and for your willingness to serve and hopefully contribute to improving our badly broken appropriations and budget processes. Second, thank you for inviting me to testify today on how such changes might be framed and supported in a bipartisan way. Let me make clear at the outset that my testimony is solely my own and does not represent the views of either institution I am affiliated with.

I understand that I was invited in part because of my many years of service in the House between 1969 and 1998 as part of several important process reforms of the institution and for what lessons I might have taken away from those experiences. I got my toes wet early in the congressional reform pool when I first came to the Hill as an intern for my congressman, John Anderson of Illinois, back in the summer of 1965, between my two years of graduate school. Anderson assigned me to monitor the hearings of the Joint Committee on the Organization of Congress and assist in preparing his testimony before that panel. 

When I returned to the Hill three years later as a fulltime legislative assistant to Anderson in January 1969, I continued my work with him on congressional reform matters, primarily through the House Rules Committee. Ironically, the 1965 joint reform committee’s work had been held in abeyance during my two-year hiatus as a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa, so I picked up where I left off in working with Anderson on what became the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970. 

The overall thrust of the reforms was to modernize Congress and make it more responsive, capable and accountable.

That final act had substantial bipartisan support because it addressed both minority Republican desires for greater openness and accountability in the legislative process, and majority Democratic hopes to make committees more democratic and transparent. The overall thrust of the reforms was to modernize Congress and make it more responsive, capable and accountable.

My next involvement with reforming Congress came in the early 1970s with Congress’s confrontations with President Nixon over budgeting. The president wanted less spending and lower deficits and was scoring points with the public by impounding (withholding) funds that Congress had appropriated. The Democratic Congress was furious, and appointed a joint study committee on budgeting to recommend what should be done. While it recommended a comprehensive budget process that included impoundment control, the initial impulse of Democratic leaders was to bar presidential impoundments as a first step, and address congressional budgeting later. However the two houses stalled in conference committee over whether there should be a two-house approval of presidential impoundments or a one-house veto. 

Consequently, with much prodding from Republicans, Congress proceeded to address both congressional budgeting and impoundment control in the same bill ?with a congressional budget to be adopted as an alternative to the president’s budget, and a strict impoundment control regime that would make any proposed presidential withholding of funds subject to congressional approval by law.

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