November 23, 2014

Washington Budget Report: November 23, 2011

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Super Committee Fails to Reach Agreement

The congressional “super committee” charged with recommending at least $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction for the next decade announced Monday that it had failed to reach agreement on a plan. Democrats and Republicans each blame the other for the failure, which The Concord Coalition described as “yet another disappointment in a year that has seen many failed attempts at a ‘grand bargain’ on fiscal policy.”

In a new issue statement, Concord warned that while the super committee gave up, Congress cannot afford to do so: “Unfortunately, the problem that the super committee was supposed to address – our nation’s unsustainable fiscal policy – remains. So the mission of the super committee must go on even as the committee itself shuts down.”

Many budget experts and nonpartisan groups had urged the committee to aim for $4 trillion or more in deficit reduction. But the panel’s deliberations were plagued by the same partisan differences that have blocked fiscal reform in the past.

After the committee’s failure, the most immediate concerns involve policies that are set to expire at the end of the year, with potential harm to the fragile economy. Looking further ahead, Congress faces $1.2 trillion in spending cuts triggered by the super committee’s failure.

Concord says lawmakers should not reduce or eliminate that trigger, although they should be free to make adjustments in the cuts so long as the deficit reduction total remains on track.

Policymakers should also broaden the discussion of fiscal reform beyond Capitol Hill. Concord has suggested that members of Congress pair up for “two-by-two” forums in which agreed-upon facts are presented and policy trade-offs discussed with constituents in each of the lawmakers’ districts.

Minibus/ Continuing Resolution Becomes Law

President Obama signed the first regular appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2012 into law last Friday. The legislation was referred to as a “minibus”  and combined three of the twelve regular appropriations bills: Agriculture, Commerce/ Justice/ Science, and Transportation/ Housing and Urban Development.  Earlier last week, the House passed the bill with a 298-121 vote and the Senate approved it with a vote of 70-30.

The legislation signed by the President also included a continuing resolution to fund the agencies not otherwise included in the legislation through Dec. 16, 2011.  The resolution provides Congress with additional time to complete work on the nine remaining appropriations bills for FY 2012.   

Also on Capitol Hill last week, a proposal to add a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution failed in the House.  In a 261-165 vote, the proposal fell short of the two-thirds majority required for a constitutional amendment.

Iowans Make Tough Budget Choices

How many Iowans would be prepared to accept cuts in agricultural subsidies as part of a comprehensive deficit-reduction plan? Not many, to hear many politicians tell it. But results from an interactive budget exercise last week in Des Moines indicate otherwise. 

Nearly 200 people of varying backgrounds, ages and ideologies participated in the exercise, which was developed by The Concord Coalition and presented as Iowans have been considering the presidential candidates they will support in the state’s closely watched caucuses early next year.

Working in “committees” of seven or eight, the participants in the program reviewed federal budget options and developed deficit-reduction plans. More than four out of five groups approved cuts in agricultural subsidies.

In smaller exercises later in the week in Sioux City, some participants also voiced support for such cuts – and expressed particular concern about subsidies paid out even when agricultural prices are high.

Jeff Thiebert, Concord’s national grassroots director, reviews some of the statistical results of the Des Moines event in a recent blog post. The average amount of deficit reduction that the groups approved, he writes, was $3.45 trillion over 10 years. Large majorities favored eliminating oil and gas subsidies, raising additional government revenue through tax reform, and increasing the Medicare eligibility age to 67, up from 65.

“Now,” Thiebert says, “if only the politicians will stop shouting their talking points long enough to listen to the people they represent and see that real leadership -- and compromise -- is needed.”
Read more with The Iowa Super Committee