The timetable for congressional consideration of two major budget-related bills appears to be slipping into next week.
The Senate’s failure Wednesday to cut off debate on financial services overhaul legislation likely means that action on a combined war/disaster supplemental will be pushed to next week. Majority Leader memcodes(summary)memberreports&print=true&sortSpec=displaydate+desc&productId=4','membercard',680,430);">Harry Reid, D-Nev., plans to hold another cloture vote today to narrow debate. But there’s no guarantee that Reid’s move will be successful, so it’s unclear when the Senate will vote on final passage. Reid reiterated that he intends to move to the $59 billion supplemental spending bill (HR 4899) after the Senate completes action on the financial overhaul measure. Although the war-funding bill is considered must-pass legislation, it’s unlikely that the Senate will be able to send it to the House quickly. Oklahoma Republican memcodes(summary)memberreports&print=true&sortSpec=displaydate+desc&productId=4','membercard',680,430);">Tom Coburn on Wednesday reiterated his intention to offer amendments to offset the bill’s cost. Coburn called the bill’s emergency designation “a farce,” given that the nation has been at war for almost 10 years. “As currently written, this bill is for the politicians, not the troops,” Coburn said. “This legislation is designed to bail out career politicians who want to avoid the hard work of prioritizing spending.”
Meanwhile, agreement remains elusive between House and Senate negotiators on legislation to extend tax cuts and safety-net spending. Democratic leaders want to clear the measure before the Memorial Day break, but the cost of continuing to postpone the scheduled cut in Medicare physician payments remains one of the biggest obstacles to advancing the legislation. Moderate Sens. memcodes(summary)memberreports&print=true&sortSpec=displaydate+desc&productId=4','membercard',680,430);">Ben Nelson, D-Neb., and memcodes(summary)memberreports&print=true&sortSpec=displaydate+desc&productId=4','membercard',680,430);">Olympia J. Snowe, R-Maine said they want an extension of the current payment schedule for doctors, known as the “doc fix,” to be offset by an equivalent amount of new revenue or reduction in spending. Democratic leaders, along with the chairmen of the tax-writing Senate Finance and House Ways and Means committees, continue to negotiate toward a bill. The absence of an agreement by Wednesday night increased the prospects that a House vote would not occur before next week. “We want to make sure the Senate is on board before we move something,” said memcodes(summary)memberreports&print=true&sortSpec=displaydate+desc&productId=4','membercard',680,430);">Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., a Ways and Means member who also is a deputy of Speaker memcodes(summary)memberreports&print=true&sortSpec=displaydate+desc&productId=4','membercard',680,430);">Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. If Congress can’t clear the package before the Memorial Day break, and does not move a stopgap measure, social safety-net programs such as expanded unemployment insurance and health insurance subsidies for jobless workers will expire during the recess.
The House could take a budget-related vote on one item today. House Republicans plan to force a floor vote on cutting the $2.5 billion Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) Emergency Fund. The emergency welfare program was the winning item on “YouCut,” a new weekly GOP-sponsored poll of possible spending cuts. Minority Whip memcodes(summary)memberreports&print=true&sortSpec=displaydate+desc&productId=4','membercard',680,430);">Eric Cantor of Virginia said Republicans will use a parliamentary tactic to press the cut proposal when the House votes on a rule for a resolution involving congressional authority to investigate the West Virginia mine disaster. Cantor had earlier indicated that the GOP would push for the vote on the first bill that required a floor rule this week.
The Congressional Budget Office on Wednesday posted information regarding private briefings it provided earlier this month to President Obama’s deficit-reduction commission regarding historical trends and projections for both discretionary and mandatory spending.
The CBO briefings were organized at the request of House and Senate Budget committee leaders, who are all members of the fiscal commission. The chairmen of the Budget panels “formally asked CBO to provide the commission with projections regarding the current budget outlook, as well as estimates and information that may be needed to assess the impact of alternative policy options,” CBO said Wednesday. CBO said the chairmen wanted the agency to weigh in “to ensure that the commission has an objective, nonpartisan source of budget information for use in its deliberations.” The commission, which Obama has tasked with finding ways to bring down the rising national debt, has formed the three working groups that will be looking more closely at the federal budget’s primary components: discretionary spending, mandatory spending and taxes/revenue.
CBO’s baseline projections show that discretionary spending would drop from 9.4 percent of GDP in 2010 to 6.7 percent of GDP in 2020, which is the lowest level in any year since 2001. “In contrast, if appropriations were frozen at the 2010 level, total discretionary spending would fall to about 5 percent of GDP by 2020, the lowest share in more than 50 years,” CBO said. It also projected an 11 percent increase in 2010 for discretionary spending, which has gone up significantly faster than inflation in recent years. Peter Fontaine, CBO’s assistant director for budget analysis, delivered the briefing on discretionary spending.
CBO projected that mandatory spending will surpass 13 percent of GDP by 2020 if current laws are kept in place. It also said mandatory spending has increased from 6 percent of GDP in 1970 to more than 10 percent in 2007. In 2020, roughly 80 percent of mandatory spending is expected to go to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and health insurance subsidies provided under the health care overhaul law, CBO said. An additional 8 percent would go to veterans’ benefits and retirement programs for members of the military and civilian federal employees. CBO Deputy Director Robert Sunshine briefed commission members on historical trends and CBO’s mandatory spending projections.
The full commission is next scheduled to meet on Wednesday, May 26. For the convenience of our readers, we’ve posted links to the Fiscal Commission’s website (in the left-hand column on the Budget Tracker website.) We also prepared a document identifying the commission “working groups” and their membership.
As prospects for a fiscal 2011 budget resolution appear to continue to wither away with Democratic leaders not yet willing to say they won’t do one, two prominent budget groups give individuals an opportunity to create their own federal budget — and in the process see how difficult it can be to reduce future deficits.
The bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget on Wednesday launched a new budget simulator to “allow the public to get a better understanding of the steps necessary to close the budget gap and stem the rising federal debt.” The simulator challenges participants to reduce projected deficits by $1.3 trillion to reduce debt held by the public to 60 percent of GDP by 2018, a level that many economists believe is “sustainable” and would prevent the nation from falling into a debt crisis. That also is the debt level recommended in a number of recent reports, including the “Red Ink Rising” report issued by the Peterson-Pew Commission and “Choosing the Nation’s Fiscal Future” issued by the National Research Council and National Academy of Public Administration. Through the simulator, individuals get to choose between dozens of policy options involving all aspects of the federal budget — including discretionary spending items such as war and defense funding, education, transportation, space exploration and foreign aid; mandatory program options involving Social Security, Medicare, farm subsidies, and veterans’ benefits; and revenue options such as extending all or few of the Bush tax cuts, imposing a value-added tax or limiting numerous popular tax expenditures such as the home mortgage interest deduction.
The CRFB warns that trying to significantly reduce deficit levels this year or next could be harmful to the economy. “Drastic action now would threaten the already fragile economic recovery. But failing to convince markets and creditors that the U.S. is serious about reducing its debt in the longer term would cause interest rates to rise dramatically and likely trigger a fiscal crisis,” the group says on its simulation website. In a release, CRFB President Maya MacGuineas noted that Congress was unlikely to adopt its own budget, “but this new budget simulator puts power in the hands of the public to show their preferences for tackling the mounting debt.” Said MacGuineas, “Policy makers and voters need to understand the types of policy changes that will be necessary; the simulator both shows them the types of policies that will ultimately have to be part of a plan, and gives them the opportunity to make their preferences known.”
The nonpartisan <Concord> <Coalition, meanwhile, continues to run its own online “Federal Budget Challenge,” where individuals make similar policy choices in an effort to balance the federal budget. The online program is derived from Concord’s ongoing “Principles and Priorities” program, an interactive educational exercise that has been used by high schools and colleges “to provide participants with a better understanding of the federal budget and realistic insight into how some of the policy proposals in the news would change the operations of the federal government.” Among other things, the exercise is intended to help individuals better understand the current composition of the federal budget, how taxes are spent and who pays them, and “what kind of political will and compromise will be required of our political leaders to change or even to maintain current federal budget priorities.” Says Concord’s website, “By considering issues such as federal spending priorities, tax policy, and entitlement reform, participants gain firsthand experience addressing the difficult issues facing policy makers in today’s fiscal environment.”