With the contentious mid-term elections over, elected officials should look forward to seize opportunities for bipartisan compromise to reduce projected deficits and meet at least some of the nation’s other fiscal challenges.
Three experts on the federal budget discussed such opportunities in a recent program on Capitol Hill. The Concord Coalition hosted the program, which was open to the public and televised by C-SPAN.
While the panelists agreed that a “grand bargain” would still be a good idea, they expressed doubt that it would happen in the next Congress. They said it was more likely that lawmakers and the President could reach more limited agreements.
Marc Goldwein, senior policy director at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, said progress could be made on tax reform and health care, including cost-saving reforms to Medicare. Goldwein said finding a way to pay for the renewal of some expired tax provisions could be a first step towards tax reform.
He added that lawmakers could consider replacing Medicare’s sustainable growth rate formula with incentives that reward providers based on value of services instead of quantity.
Steve Bell, senior director of economic policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center, called the organization of the federal budget process “crazy” and so complex that few lawmakers really understand it. He urged the next Congress to simplify the process and include more senior lawmakers on the budget committees.
Bell also suggested that President Obama should submit a budget to Congress that balances within three years.
Robert L. Bixby, Concord’s executive director, said Congress should enact reforms to make the debt ceiling more effective by tying it to an economically relevant target and changing the consequence of missing the target to automatic spending cuts or tax increases rather than default on obligations already incurred.
Bixby said successful bipartisan agreements, even if they fall short of a grand bargain, could build trust among elected officials in Washington while providing them with greater public credibility. He also cautioned against complacency:
“We really don’t have a ‘Mission Accomplished’ situation.”