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Once we get it, we have hearings in the Appropriations Committee and obviously people get a chance to be heard. But the very impact of this budget coming here is so powerful, it is such a major document and it carries the President's budget message, it commands the attention of the news. It is 95 percent passed by the time it gets here. It seems to me we have to open it up a little bit ahead of time and one of the purposes of our Office of Budget is to work with the Office of Budget and Management even in the preliminary preparation of the budget before it gets down here. And also to open up these hearings at the OMB level where you have departmental budgets being presented so that somebody can come on in and make their presentation or at least notify Governors.
We want to notify the Governors that there is a budget 6 months prior to the presentation of the budget, that they can be heard from and that the OMB would be willing to listen to what they have to say. That is part of opening up the process.
I don't think that is the most significant thing here, but it lends a little something more meaningful.
I see my good friend, Senator Young, here. I venture to say not a single farm or commodity group has ever had a chance to present their views as to what ought to go into an agriculture budget before we get it.
I believe also it would not be a bad idea for this Office of Budget and Evaluation to be able to have some signed recommendations itself before the federal budget comes down here. I am not saying it is a cureall. I think it makes some sense.
Senator YOUNG. I think if they consult us, we could help them accomplish the same thing in a less painful way.
Mr. JAMES BROYHILL. So what happens if you get a Presidential veto on this? Do we start over?
Senator HUMPHREY. You mean on the budget ceiling?
Senator HUMPHREY. Your point is well raised, I think, Congressman. I think we could establish the congressional budget ceiling for our own satisfaction without a Presidential signature.
I see your point and it might be very well if we modify it accordingly.
Chairman WHITTEN. Mr. Schneebeli.
Mr. SCHNEEBELI. I think it is obvious how important our study is, especially in view of our first eight witnesses, from Chairman Burns to the Senator from Minnesota and my friend from Pennsylvania.
I don't think any of us wants to write our constituency and say we don't know how to control the budget. I think we have to come up with something responsible.
I think all of the witnesses have made valuable contributions to our effort to solve the problems we face.
Mr. MOORHEAD. Let me say I commend all of you on this joint committee for taking this extremely difficult subject and starting to wrestle with it.
Mr. SCHNEEBELI. Congress has put itself on a spot and had better do something about it.
Chairman WHITTEN. Mr. Davis.
Mr. Davis. I was interested, Senator, in your colloquy with Chairman Mahon.
I gather from some of the things he has indicated that he finds himself philosophically opposed to the impoundments of funds and yet I think he recognizes that we have had some problems with appropriations up here on the Hill that sort of made that a necessity.
I think we in the legislative branch do find ourselves in a very difficult position on this issue, from trying to raise it as a constitutional matter as far as the power of the Executive, and I notice that you take a position that with some congressional guidelines that there was nothing inherently wrong with the idea of an Executive ceiling, which results in the impoundment of funds, but I think the difficulty we find ourselves in in attempting to raise this as a constitutional issue is the whole history of this issue, both in our mother country and here, has been an Executive that wanted to spend more money and a legislative branch that was reluctant to provide those funds.
Now we find ourselves on sort of the opposite side of the coin here. You suggested Presidential impoundment within a guideline.
Senator HUMPHREY. No; not just a guideline. I do not support Presidential impoundment simply because it may be sound fiscally because that is not to be constitutional.
I think that if we had impoundment, if the Congress as it gets to the end of the year sees that its appropriations or its spending authority is greater than its spending ceiling, it has two choices, either to revise the spending ceiling-three choices—to revise the spending ceiling, to make reductions across the board, or wherever it wishes to in its own appropriations, or thirdly, to authorize the President by congressional act, under certain terms and guidelines to make appropriate cuts. That then fits within the power of thc purse, within the delicate balance of powers.
I have to say most respectfully that as I see it and I am not just picking on this President because people have asked me a number of times "did you have any argument with President Johnson," and I haven't tried to spend my time trying to talk about any differences I might have had with that very good and fine friend and great man. But we did have one difference. And that was over impoundment. And that was known by members of the administration at that time. Because I felt that this was beyond what we ought to be doing at the executive level and you may know at least the President did consult with the leaders of Congress and later on came back and asked for authority on impoundment.
That is just my own personal position. Congressman Davis, I just feel Congress has to be fiscally responsible and if it isn't, if it gets out of hand anyplace, it either has to: No. 1, raise the spending ceiling so it is honest with the public: second, cut its own appropriations to the spending ceiling; or third, authorize
reduce the spending.
Mr. Davis. Let's take a historical precedent that we have all heard about.
I think they referred to President Jefferson impounding funds that had been appropriated for some gunboats. He didn't spend the money because the need for the gunboats had passed.
If we attempt to set any guidelines like a percentage of or something of this kind, we would then be saying to President Jefferson, whether those gunboats are needed or not, you can't cut more than 10 percent out of the funds for those gunboats. How do we get around that problem?
Senator HUMPHREY. We have taken care of that and we have already, may I say, set guidelines in the Anti-Deficiency Acts of 1905 and 1906 as amended in 1950 and there is some authorization for Presidential impoundments.
There are several reasons for it. For example, Presidential impoundment for a more systematic apportionment of the funds through a fiscal year, where efficiencies can be obtained and the purposes of the program fulfilled without the full expenditure of the funds.
And there are two or three other things. So we could set those guidelines. I grant you that the Jeffersonian one certainly clouded this issue. and I think many of us argue around here what we think is constitutional.
There has been quite a little argument up and down the years and I have to look at it from my point of view and this is such a pressing power that we have on the one hand and so vital, this power of the purse, that it is my judgment that no matter what has happened in the past, when we get up to budgets of $300 billion, which is, as we look ahead with inflation and with our growing population, et cetera, it is such a vast amount of total gross national product that we must not permit that kind of power to be used without very careful controls and understandings and standards between the Congress and the President.
It is just my view of it. You know, somebody once said, the way vou stand is the way you sit. I suppose when the President gets over in the White House-I kind of manoeuvered that way myself. I kept missing the boat, however. I suppose I might have looked at it a little differently right there—but from where I sit, I am not for giving the President impoundment powers without express congressional authority.
Mr. MOORHEAD. May I say, Mr. Chairman, I hope that this special Joint Committee will do everything it can to preserve and strengthen the powers of the Congress, the legislative branch, which has been declining over the years.
I hone that vou consider that as your No. 1 priority.
Mr. Davis. I am just as jealous of the powers of Congress as any. body, but I am also gravely concerned for the lack of responsibility on the part of Congress which has made this impoundment a necessity. I don't know how to get around it. I don't think that setting percentage guidelines is going to get around it.
Maybe if we exercise our power in a responsible fashion, then the President wouldn't need to use that power.
Senator HUMPHREY. I think that is basically true, but again I say I do not want to give the power to the President willy-nilly to cancel out any program he wants to simply in the name of what he calls fiscal integrity.
We haven't got any fiscal integrity from the executive branch. They keep sending down deficit budgets. We call them full employment budgets now. Isn't it interesting that we get scolded because we appropriate more than the President asks for and the President asks
for more than there is money to pay for. Who is lacking in what we call integrity or responsibility ?
We appropriate more than the President asks for but the Presi. dent asks for more than the country is paying for.
Mr. SCHNEEBELI. Then we are worse than the President.
Senator HUMPHREY. It is a question of degree. It seems to me there is very little evidence that indicates we have been very wild on this.
Mr. SCHNEEBELI. We have both been wrong. I would consider Congress has gone beyond the President.
Chairman WHITTEN. I would like to recommend the general report of this committee which passed unanimously.
From the argument we are hearing now, you can see what an achievement that was.
Mr. JAMES BROYHILL. Could I ask one more question along this line? We had a short discussion this morning as to whether or not we should advocate item veto. I wonder if the Senator would have any thoughts on that, that maybe we would have a constitutional amendment to provide for item veto.
Senator HUMPHREY. I am opposed to it. Mr. MOORHEAD. May I say to my friend from North Carolinaand I agree completely-I think this would increase the power of the Executive way out of proportion.
Mr. JAMES BROYHILL. This would be better than impoundment. At least it would give the Congress the right to debate and have a vote on it.
Senator HUMPHREY. Yes. I suppose diarrhea is better than scarlet fever, but I prefer not to have either one.
Mr. JAMES BROYHILL. I just wonder, since the subject came up, how you felt about it.
Senator HUMPHREY. I have felt that way since long before this discussion.
Mr. JAMES BROYHILL. One of the problems we have around here is these bigger and bigger bills come up. We have apples and oranges put in the same package. It sometimes makes it difficult to assess just what programs are in the bill.
Chairman WHITTEN. This committee, I repeat, is a study committee to come up with ways and means to get a firmer grasp in Congress of the budget process, and I believe we can.
You have contributed to it. Others will contribute to it, and the more we know, the better can be our deliberations.
When we get through we will be trying to recommend a plan that a majority can agree on because only by its adoption will it prove helpful.
I think our report made it quite evident that our problem is not limited to the appropriations process and the annual appropriation bills. When you realize only 44 percent of the outlays in the 1974 budget involve new appropriations to be reviewed by the Appropriations Committee, you can see the control problem also involves other areas.
Thank you for your contribution.
[Whereupon, at 3:50 p.m., the committee was adjourned, to be reconvened at 10 a.m., Wednesday, March 7, 1973.]
IMPROVING CONGRESSIONAL BUDGET CONTROL
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 7, 1973
Washington, D.C. The Joint Committee met, pursuant to notice, at 10 a.m., in room 1114 Dirksen Building, Hon. Jamie L. Whitten and Hon. Al Ullman, presiding.
Present: Representatives Whitten (presiding), Ullman (presiding), Schneebeli, James Broyhill, Rhodes, Davis, Mahon, and Senator Roth.
Chairman WHITTEN. Gentlemen, the committee will come to order.
We have with us today a very distinguished official of the United States, and a long-time friend and acquaintance of most of us on the committee, Mr. Elmer B. Staats, Comptroller General.
Mr. Staats, we on this committee are all familiar with your very excellent background and your capacity to discuss the problem that is before us.
I don't feel that we need to go into any detail about what the problem is preliminary to your presentation.
We are glad to have you here and we are glad that you accepted our invitation to come down and give us the benefit of your views.
We will be glad to hear from you.
STATEMENT OF HON. ELMER STAATS, COMPTROLLER GENERAL OF
THE UNITED STATES, GENERAL ACCOUNTING OFFICE
Mr. STAATS. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
I am very happy to be here and talk on the subject which I have been interested in for a long time.
I appreciate this opportunity to discuss our thoughts on improving congressional control over the Federal budget.
We have reviewed the Interim Report of February 7, 1973, of the Joint Study Committee on Budget Control and we agree that if the Congress can devise workable procedures along the lines of the committee's 10 recommendations, congressional control over the Federal budget will be greatly strengthened.
As you will recognize, however, devising effective and acceptable new procedures will not be easy. My purpose here today is to provide our views on the preliminary report, to describe some of our operations that are directly pertinent to congressional budgetary control, and to suggest other ways in which we may improve our assistance.