Fiscal experts testified last week to the House Budget Committee on the need to control automatic federal spending on programs such as Social Security and Medicare in which expenditures are not subject to the annual appropriations process.
The committee hearing featured testimony from David Walker, former U.S. comptroller general; Stuart Butler, senior fellow in economic studies at Brookings, and Lily Batchelder, professor of law and public policy at New York University.
Walker advocated statutory reforms that would lower the public-debt-to-GDP ratio. He said this would require “addressing mandatory spending programs and engaging in comprehensive tax reform.”
Butler emphasized the need for “a public and congressional debate about long-term goals for these (automatic spending) programs and their impact on the economy.” Without a long-term strategy, Butler said, the default plan is simply allowing mandatory spending amounts to increase, which is unsustainable.
Batchelder drew particular attention to tax expenditures — deductions, exclusions, credits and exemptions that favor some taxpayers over others. She called them “the one type of automatic spending that is both enormously costly and too often overlooked.”