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The State of Reform
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"Budget reform is a tough nut to crack," argues Kevin Kosar.

The broken budget process is a democracy reform issue

Kosar is vice president of policy at the R Street Institute, a nonpartisan and pro-free-market public policy research organization. He's also a co-director of the nonpartisan Legislative Branch Capacity Working Group.

It is difficult to overstate how wrecked the federal budget process is. Late last month, President Trump signed a 30-day stopgap funding measure to dodge a government shutdown. This was the second time this autumn that Congress and the president had to resort to such a continuing resolution. Governing through short-term spending bills has become the rule in recent years, and not passing a congressional budget resolution (or spending plan) has become the new normal.

The wrecked process has produced alarming results. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has predicted that our country will have a trillion dollar deficit this year. Payments on the $22 trillion federal debt are more than $325 billion a year — which, to put it in context, is more than quintuple the budget of the Department of Education. Entitlements (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, federal workers' retirement benefits and so-called food stamps) account for about 60 percent of all spending. These mandatory outlays have swallowed nearly 90 percent of federal spending. "Fiscal democracy," as scholar Eugene Steurle terms it, is clearly eroding.

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A one-bedroom, one-bath apartment totaling 460 square foot will run you $1,950 on Capitol Hill.

Congress should get a pay raise, whether they deserve it or not

Drutman, a senior fellow in the political reform program at New America, and Kosar, vice president of policy at the R Street Institute, are co-directors of the nonpartisan Legislative Branch Capacity Working Group.

You've surely heard the old line, "The best Congress money can buy." Typically, it's said sardonically. In the classic formulation, it's not your money doing the buying. It's special interests and lobbyists forking over the dough. In exchange, they get the best Congress they can buy – for them.

But what if it were your money? How much should you, the taxpayers, be willing to pay? If you want a Congress that works for you, can you get it on the cheap?

The debate is not an academic one. House Democrats and Republican leaders have proposed boosting legislators' pay by providing a cost of living adjustment of $4,500. The current annual salary of $174,000 has not changed since 2009. Adjusted for inflation, that amounts to a 16 percent decrease.

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