Public concern about the nation’s rising debt burden is beginning to have an impact on the legislative agenda.
That much was evident as the House passed a scaled back “extenders” bill (H.R. 4213) on May 28 by a slim margin. Originally estimated to have a gross cost of $192 billion and a net deficit increase of $134 billion, the final bill carried a gross cost of $114 billion and a net deficit increase of $54 billion.
While this cost reduction was a victory for House Democrats -- mainly Blue Dogs -- who objected to the deficit impact of the original bill, much of it was accomplished by timing shifts rather than a change in policy. For example, shortening the extension period of certain unemployment benefits “saved” about $8 billion and sunsetting an increase in the Medicare physician reimbursement rate (the “doc fix”) after 19 months “saved” almost $40 billion.
It remains to be seen whether concerns about the immediate deficit, which is largely driven by economic conditions, will be translated into hard choices on the long-term structural deficit.
In that regard, it is worth noting that the policies extended in the extenders bill carry large long-term costs whether they become visible now or in the...