October 9, 2015

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Friday, August 10, 2012 - 2:05 PM

Congressional procrastination could lead to chaotic decision-making on the federal budget after the November elections, but many economists believe this procrastination is already harming the economy.

The damage stems from widespread uncertainty over what elected officials will do, if anything, about the “fiscal cliff” – a combination of sharp “automatic” spending cuts and the scheduled expiration of tax cuts at year’s end.

The Wall Street Journal reported today on its survey of 47 economists, noting their widespread concern about the growing economic cost of congressional inaction. This “adds insult to injury to an economy already flirting with a stall rate,” said Diane Swonk of Mesirow Financial. Another analyst, Julia Coronado of BNP Paribas, said: “We are already feeling the effects in hiring and investment.”

The general expectation in Washington is that elected officials will not take action on the fiscal cliff until after the elections, despite encouragement throughout much of this year from The Concord Coalition and many other analysts and groups to work out a bipartisan action plan as soon as possible.

Thursday, August 9, 2012 - 9:10 AM

Beginning in January, approximately $109 billion in across-the-board spending cuts are scheduled to automatically take effect. Known in budget policy circles as a “sequester,” these cuts are unusual in that the executive branch directs how the spending cuts occur, as opposed to the traditional locus for such cuts -- the congressional Appropriations Committees.

Because this sequester could have such a dramatic impact on many federal programs and the economy in general, Congress is eagerly awaiting specifics about how the administration plans to implement the cuts. On Tuesday President Obama signed the Sequestration Transparency Act, which requires him and the Office of Management and Budget to put forth a report in 30 days on how a sequester would be implemented. An overwhelming House majority passed the legislation last month, and the Senate approved it unanimously.

Sequesters have been part of the budget process for decades. Were this sequester to go into effect, however, it would be among the few that have ever actually taken place in this country’s history, and would certainly have the greatest budgetary effect.

The sequester was initially intended as a “Sword of Damocles” over the “super committee” created by the August 2011 deal to raise the debt limit. It was not actually designed to take effect;...

Wednesday, August 1, 2012 - 6:04 PM

Rep. Steven LaTourette’s announcement this week that he will not seek re-election underscores the difficulties that face elected officials who try to take a constructive, bipartisan approach to dealing with the nation’s most important challenges – notably the need for fundamental fiscal reforms.

“For a long time now, words like compromise have been considered to be dirty words,” the Republican said in a press conference in his Ohio district Tuesday. “And there are people on the right and the left who think that if you compromise you’re a coward . . . . you’re an appeaser.”

LaTourette, who has served in the House since 1995, has built a reputation as a moderate who seeks bipartisan compromise and is willing to challenge members of his own party when he feels they are taking less constructive positions. His frustration, echoed by many other moderates in Washington, should serve as a warning to American voters that partisanship and political intransigence are clouding the country’s future.

That’s particularly true in fiscal policy, as LaTourette indicated in his press conference. He understands the need for sweeping changes to put the federal budget on a more responsible and sustainable course, as recommended by an array of bipartisan groups, including...

Tuesday, July 17, 2012 - 12:52 PM

Today Concord Coalition Co-Chair Sam Nunn, a former U.S. senator from Georgia, helped launch the Campaign to Fix the Debt.  This project is a non-partisan initiative to put America on a better fiscal and economic path.  Nunn is a member of the campaign's steering committee.  

In advance of the campaign's launch, Nunn said:

"On fiscal matters, neither political party can impose its will on the other, and that it is not likely to change after the election.  Successfully tackling our fiscal challenges requires Members of Congress to come together across party lines with a balanced plan that will strengthen the economy, reassure markets, and save future generations from an unbearable debt burden.  There are good people across the political spectrum who recognize this in putting together the Simpson  – Bowles and the Domenici  – Rivlin plans.  There are many Members of Congress who are willing to work together, but they get hit hard from both sides and need a foundation of citizen support.  The Campaign to Fix the Debt hopes to give these folks in Washington, DC and across the country the support they need to work together to put our nation's interest above political parties and to strengthen America to protect our children's...

Friday, May 25, 2012 - 10:06 AM

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has released an excellent analysis on the "Economic Effects of Reducing the Fiscal Restraint That Is Scheduled to Occur in 2013."  The CBO term “fiscal restraint” has been more popularly referred to as “the fiscal cliff.” That is because there are so many large, sudden fiscal policy changes awaiting us at the turn of the year that if we think of the U.S. economy as a train, it is heading straight for a dramatic fall-off in consumer demand (and hence in overall activity in an economy still constrained by inadequate demand) as these policy changes all happen at once.

Some of the main changes we will face are the expiration of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, the expiration of the payroll tax cut, and the beginning of automatic spending cuts required by the debt limit law passed last August. The concern is that taking so much money out of the economy at one time, through either tax increases or a reduction in government spending on goods and services, would slow consumer spending. That would reduce businesses’ desire to increase hiring, which would lead to continued high unemployment. 

And yes, the worry is that the rapid deficit reduction will be harmful. As I explained...

Monday, April 2, 2012 - 12:00 AM

A rare display of bipartisan fiscal cooperation broke out on Capitol Hill last week when 38 House members (22 Democrats and 16 Republicans) braved an onslaught of interest group pressure to vote in favor of a budget resolution designed to rein in the deficit through a combination of spending cuts and tax increases. The budget plan, offered by Representatives Jim Cooper (D-TN) and Steven LaTourette (R-OH) as an amendment to the House budget resolution, was based on the recommendations of the Simpson-Bowles fiscal commission. It came 15 months after a bipartisan majority of that commission put forth a credible and comprehensive plan to address the deficit and was the first budget plan based on the commission’s work to come up for a vote in the House or Senate.

While the nays on the Cooper-LaTourette amendment outnumbered the yeas by 10 to 1, the very existence of a bipartisan budget alternative signaled an important breakthrough. It demonstrated growing frustration with the starkly partisan plans that members are routinely pressured to choose from and established a framework upon which future bipartisan efforts can be built.

There is little doubt that future efforts will be needed.

Legislation will have to be enacted by the end of the year unless Congress and the President want to allow all expiring tax...

Friday, March 30, 2012 - 1:38 PM


Sometimes it can seem like none of our elected representatives are willing to buck their own party leaders, let alone vote for something because it’s for the good of the country, rather than serving some ideological purpose.

That’s why bipartisan support this week in the House to use the Simpson-Bowles commission recommendations to guide the 2013 budget was like a breath of fresh air. No, the amendment did not come close to passing, but the 38 members who broke ranks and voted aye are true heroes of fiscal responsibility. Political considerations took a backseat to doing the right thing, and we enthusiastically commend these brave men and women for stepping up and being counted:

Jim Cooper (D-TN) Sponsor
Steven LaTourette (R-OH) Co-sponsor
Rob Andrews (D-NJ)
Charlie Bass (R-NH)
Dan Boren (D-OK)
Leonard Boswell (D-IA)
Ann Marie Buerkle (R-NY)
John Carney (D-DE)
James Clyburn (D-SC)
Jim Costa (D-CA)
Henry Cuellar (D-TX)
Charlie Dent (R-PA)
Bob Dold (R-IL)
Chaka Fattah (D-PA)
Chris Gibson (R-NY)
Jim Himes (D-CT)
Tim Johnson (R-IL)
Ron Kind (D-WI)
Rick Larsen (D-WA)
Dan Lipinski (D-IL)
Cynthia Marie Lummis (R-WY)
Pat Meehan (R-PA)
Ed Perlmutter (D-CO)

Monday, March 12, 2012 - 12:14 PM

Last week two committees in the House of Representatives voted to repeal the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB). This is an alarming attempt to undo a key cost-saving enforcement mechanism without putting anything else in its place.

You may recall that the IPAB was created by the Affordable Care Act (ACA – aka “health care reform”) to reduce the growth in Medicare spending through the use of a spending-target system and a fast-track legislative process. 

The Concord Coalition has long supported the IPAB because it provides a crucial backstop to ensure federal health care savings from the ACA. (See here and here).

The ACA imposed cuts to Medicare, raised some taxes and fees, and created a penalty for people who don’t buy insurance. The legislation also created pilot projects and experiments to determine how to help curb the growth of health care costs. The IPAB was designed to ensure that the Medicare cuts -- or others that would achieve the same level of savings -- will go into effect. The IPAB will also make it less likely that parochial political interests will be able to...

Monday, December 12, 2011 - 1:00 AM

If Congress were to simply follow the budget path laid out in current law, the federal government might escape some of its widely anticipated fiscal problems over the next few years. But that is a big “if,” as became clear Friday at a forum at the University of New Hampshire School of Law.

In the keynote speech, Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody’s Analytics, said he was more optimistic than many economists about the nation’s prospects and the likelihood that Washington would move the country onto a more sustainable track.

Robert L. Bixby, executive director of The Concord Coalition, offered a more guarded assessment of the nation’s fiscal problems and noted the possibility that elected officials could stray far from the promising budget path laid out by current law. “The catch is following through,” he said.

The forum was sponsored by the law school, the Whittemore School of Business and Economics, the New Hampshire Business and Industry Association, and Concord. It was part of “Next-Generation Matters,” a series of conversations in New Hampshire about the country’s economic future.

Despite this year’s political squabbles over increasing the federal debt limit, Zandi said, elected officials in both parties see the need to...

Tuesday, December 6, 2011 - 10:49 AM

The current debate over extending the payroll tax cut well demonstrates that policymakers often mean different things when referring to policies that “help” or “expand” the economy. I often hear the words “stimulus” and “growth” used interchangeably, but when economists use them, we typically are making a distinction between different economic goals that apply to different circumstances.

“Stimulus” usually refers to short-term policies to increase demand for goods and services in an economy  operating at less-than-full capacity -- i.e., an economy with high unemployment. In such a recessionary economy, the problem is not a lack of productive resources (capital and labor), but a lack of demand for the goods and services that those resources produce. Under such conditions, public sector deficits -- whether through tax cuts or direct spending -- can be an effective way to increase demand (consumption) and the level of economic activity.

“Growth” usually refers to the long-term expansion of the “supply side” of the economy -- that is, the supply of capital and labor. When the economy is at “full employment,” the binding constraint on it is not the demand for goods and services, but the supply of inputs to production. Fiscal policies that are good at growing the economy over the longer term are therefore those...