Radio Address to the Nation on the Reform of the Budget Process

 

November 8, 1986

 

My fellow Americans:

 

The campaign season is behind us, and it's now time to get down to business here in Washington. As we wrapped up the last session of Congress, one bit of unfinished business was crying out to be completed. I'm talking about the congressional budget process. I believe, and many believe with me, that the way the budgets are put together is a disgrace, simply unworthy of the Legislature of the greatest democracy in the world. This is not a criticism of Congress. In fact, many Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle agree.

 

Let's look for a moment at what happened this year. For more than 8 months the process dragged on, with Congress failing to send to me any of the appropriations bills I needed to keep the Government running. It came down to the deadline, the day the Federal Government would simply run out of money, and there was still no budget. Instead, as has happened so many years in the past, we got what is called a continuing resolution, a grab bag full of special-interest projects that never would have made it into a real budget. This was the first time in history, however, that every single appropriations bill for the whole United States Government was dumped in one wagon. I was given a half-trillion-dollar spending bill on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. Well, we insisted that some of the most flagrant abuses of the budget process be taken out, such as language that would have undercut our position at the arms reduction talks in Geneva, language that would have very likely have made our progress in Iceland all but impossible. Other provisions that would have hurt vital defense needs were also eliminated. Even so, you can bet that tucked away in that half-trillion-dollar bill was enough waste to run several small countries for many years.

 

There are many in the Congress who are unhappy with the way the budget process works. In the crisis atmosphere surrounding these continuing resolutions, all sorts of wasteful spending programs and other measures that never could have survived a thorough and thoughtful debate can sneak through. My friends, I agree this is no way for the United States of America to conduct its fiscal affairs. No private company would be permitted to behave this way. No State legislature in our Union is allowed to conduct its affairs this irresponsibly. And most important, no family can be so negligent in running its finances. Why can't we expect the United States Congress to do what millions of American families do every month: set a budget, stick to it, and balance their checkbooks?

 

You know, our Founding Fathers considered the power of the purse the most important responsibility of the legislative branch. If that power is abused, it can have very serious consequences for our nation, not only threatening our prosperity with huge budget deficits but, ultimately, undermining the economic foundations of our safety and national security. And that's why we must start now, while the memory of this year's budget fiasco is still fresh in our minds, to reform the budget process. We must redouble our efforts, on both sides of the aisle, in a spirit of cooperation to improve the budget process. There are a number of solutions to this problem, and I will outline other recommendations at a later date. The balanced budget amendment and the line-item veto are a good place to begin. The American people overwhelmingly support a balanced budget. And the balanced budget amendment lost in the Senate early this year by only one vote. When Congress reconvenes next year, that amendment should be foremost on their agenda. The line-item veto can also be within reach of next year's Congress. No other single piece of legislation would so quickly and effectively put order back into our budget process. All it would mean is that the President could selectively sign or veto individual spending items, that he wouldn't have to take the fat along with the meat. Forty-three Governors have the line-item veto. I had it when I was Governor of California.

 

You know, when we first started talking about tax reform, a chorus of naysayers arose telling us it couldn't be done. But we stuck to our guns, and with your support and a bipartisan coalition in Congress, we did it all right: The most profound, progrowth tax reform this nation has ever seen is now the law of the land. Well, the same can be true with budget reform. There are always people in this town telling you why something can't be done. But I've got one good reason why budget reform can be done, and that reason is you, the American people. And that's why I believe Washington ain't seen nothin' yet. Budget reform is an idea whose time has come.

 

Until next week, thanks for listening. God bless you all.

 

Note: The President spoke at 12:06 p.m. from Camp David, MD.