The bipartisan agreement reached yesterday to fund government agencies through Jan. 15 and suspend the debt limit through Feb. 7 avoided an immediate crisis but left intact all of the underlying fiscal disputes that have prevented agreement on a Fiscal Year 2014 budget and a comprehensive fiscal stability plan.
While The Concord Coalition welcomes the agreement as an alternative to continued acrimony and the threat of imminent default, relief over the last-minute deal should not obscure the fact that Congress and President Obama still have some very large tasks ahead of them. The first of these is to agree on a full-year 2014 budget by the tight Dec. 13 deadline.
The fact that a House-Senate conference committee on the budget has now been appointed is a particularly positive development from the agreement. At a minimum, its goal should be to prevent another shutdown and debt limit crisis early next year. It has the even more valuable opportunity, however, to forge a bipartisan plan for comprehensive fiscal reform to put the federal government on a more responsible and sustainable path in the coming decade and beyond.
A credible plan to do so would involve three key items that have the potential to attract bipartisan support: additional health care reforms that reduce projected spending, tax reforms that target wasteful subsidies, and a new set of spending caps to replace the “sequestration” caps that were never intended to actually go into effect – and that neither party fully supports.
Elements of these policy goals can be found in the House and Senate budget resolutions as well as in the President's budget. With a renewed commitment to approach the task in a cooperative way, the conference committee has the chance to put together a budget that - like yesterday's agreement - can attract enough votes to be enacted.
The time for thought exercises is over. It's time to do a budget.
Media contact: Steve Winn, firstname.lastname@example.org, 703-254-7828