Update: The Gang of 36 has grown to 45 --23 Republicans, 21 Democrats, and 1 Independent. See below for the full list of participating Senators.
Today, a bipartisan group of 36 bipartisan Senators--18 Republicans, 17 Democrats, and 1 Independent -- called for the Super Committee to enact a large comprehensive deficit reduction plan. The members sent a letter to the Committee which, in many ways, echoes the letter that of over 60 business leaders, former government officials, and budget experts released earlier this week.
The letter calls for deficit reduction plan that not only puts the debt on a sustainable path, but also helps foster economic growth.
The main principles presented in the letter are:
- Include enough deficit reduction to stabilize the debt as a share of the economy, and put the debt on a downward path, and provide fiscal certainty. We believe a reasonable target is at least $4 trillion, including previously enacted deficit measures. This will send the right message to the financial markets.
- Use the established, bipartisan debt and deficit reduction frameworks as a starting point for discussions.
- Focus on the major parts of the budget and include long-term entitlement reforms and pro-growth tax reform.
- Be structured to grow the economy in the short, medium and long-term
- Work to include the American public and the business community in a broader discussion about the breadth of the issues, challenges and opportunities facing us.
Momentum is growing for the Super Committee to enact a $3 or $4 trillion plan that tackles entitlement spending and includes tax reform. This letter demonstrates that the Committee has bipartisan Congressional support for going big. We commend this important bipartisan effort.
The signatories to the letter include:
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK), Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO), Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA), Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE), Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), Sen. Dan Coats (R-IN), Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS), Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND), Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID), Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY), Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC), Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND), Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Sen. Mike Johanns (R-NE), Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI), Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS), Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR), Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS), Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT), Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO), Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS), and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR).
Congress has a long checklist of things it has to do by the end of September. On Tuesday, it informally crossed one thing off when the House passed a "clean" extension of transportation programs through at least the end of the year. The Senate should pass it soon as well.
Also, Congress had the opportunity to pass a disapproval of the second tranche of the debt ceiling. The measure failed in the Senate, so it will not be sent to President Obama.
But there is much more for Congress to get done in the new few weeks.
- Disaster relief: The Senate was able to pass a $7 billion disaster relief package on Tuesday by a 61-38 vote, after it was rejected 53-33 earlier. The House has yet to pass a bill, but supposedly, they are looking to offset the cost of disaster relief.
- Appropriations bills: The government must be funded at the start of FY 2012 in two weeks. But there is a tougher item on the agenda that must be done by October 1: enacting all 12 appropriations bills or a CR for FY 2012. Under the Budget Control Act, the total cap for discretionary spending is $1.043 trillion for FY 2012, and the indication is that Congress will stick to the cap, despite some rumbling in the House about lower spending levels. The House has been working since it passed the House budget resolution (the "House Republican budget") in April to pass appropriations bills. So far, the full House has passed six appropriations, while the Senate has only passed one (Military Construction-VA). Other bills that have action in both chambers have significant funding differences, although this is partially because the House was operating under a lower cap ($1.019 trillion) when they passed their bills. If they are unable to get any of the bills finished in time, they will have to turn to a...
- Continuing resolution: House Appropriations Committee chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) released yesterday a $1.043 trillion CR that would fund the government through November 18. The measure would represent a 1.4 percent cut from FY 2011, which would be applied essentially across-the-board. It would also provide $3.65 billion in disaster relief. The fact that Rogers is using the BCA cap is a sign that reconciling House and Senate wishes may not be that difficult.
Since there are a lot of moving parts, we have put all of the appropriations bills into the table below, showing its status in the House and Senate and the funding difference between the two bills, if applicable.
|Appropriations Process Update|
|Bill||House Status||Senate Status||Funding Difference|
|Military Construction-VA||Passed House||Passed Senate||Minor Differences|
|Agriculture||Passed House||Passed Appropriations||Senate $2.6 Billion Higher|
|Energy-Water||Passed House||Passed Appropriations||Senate $1 Billion Higher|
|Homeland Security||Passed House||Passed Appropriations||Senate $400 Million Higher|
|Defense||Passed House||Passed Subcommittee||House $18.2 Billion Higher|
|Legislative Branch||Passed House||N/A||N/A|
|Commerce-Justice-Science||Passed Appropriations||Passed Subcommittee||Senate $2.5 Billion Higher|
|Financial Services||Passed Appropriations||Passed Subcommittee||Senate $1.8 Billion Higher|
|State-Foreign Operations||Passed Subcommittee||N/A||N/A|
You can see the status of all of the appropriations bills at CQ's Budget Tracker (subscription required).
Today, Vice President Joe Biden convened the first cabinet-level meeting as part of the Administration's "Campaign to Cut Waste." He also announced a new Medicaid initiative designed at saving $2 billion over five years. According to OMB Director Jack Lew:
HHS today released its final rule for the Medicaid Recovery Audit Contractor Program, a waste-cutting program created by the Affordable Care Act that’s projected to save $2.1 billion over the next five years – $900 million of which will be returned to states. The new program is based on the successful Medicare Recovery Audit Contractor program, which the Vice President announced has already recovered nearly $670 million to date in 2011 – increasing the taxpayer dollars recovered by nearly 800% compared to 2010.
Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis joined with the Vice President to discuss new Labor Department plans to reduce improper Unemployment Insurance payments by strengthening accountability for states...
As part of the Administration’s efforts to cut wasteful and inefficient spending, the Vice President also asked today’s meeting attendees to report back on wasteful spending practices at each of their agencies...
By holding these regular cabinet meetings, the Vice President is making clear that each member of the Cabinet is going to be held accountable for both the dollars they spend and making government work more efficiently."
Initiatives like these to reduce waste, fraud, and abuse are very important. Not only do they help to save money, but in an era of scarce resources they help demonstrate that government's intent to spend its money wisely. Of course, as CBO Director Doug Elmendorf pointed out recently, cutting waste and fraud is not a panacea; and it isn't going to make a major dent in our fiscal picture. But it's a start, and we hope to see more of it in the coming weeks and months.
Today, members of the Blue Dog Coalition—a group of fiscally conservative Democrats—sent a letter to the Super Committee urging it to exceed the committee’s mandate "and cut the deficit by $4 trillion over the next 10 years.”
Of course, we strongly agree with this sentiment, and the Blue Dogs are making this message even stronger. Recently, we wrote a paper calling for the Super Committee to Go Big, Go Long, and Go Smart. This was followed up by a letter signed by over 60 Business Leaders, former government officials, and experts, including Fiscal Commission (and Moment of Truth Project) co-chairs Erskine Bowles and Al Simpson. In addition, members of the Super Committee itself have started calling on the group to go big.
Here is the Blue Dog letter:
Dear Members of Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction:
On August 11, 2011, we sent a letter to every member of the Committee, urging you to work with your colleagues to achieve a balanced, bipartisan solution that will ensure the United States remains the world’s leading economy.
We have spent the past month with our constituents back home. As Blue Dogs, we represent diverse districts that span the country, yet we heard one consistent message: quit the partisan bickering and get something accomplished.
Congress and the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction have a rare opportunity to put our fiscal house in order at a time when the public is paying close attention to our deficits and debt. Leaders of both parties will urge you to retreat to the stale party positions and talking points. Political operatives, with an eye toward November 2012, will turn this into a battle of Democrats versus Republicans. Now is the time to take a time-out from the 2012 elections, put party affiliations aside, and work together for the sake of our country’s future.
The Budget Control Act of 2011 charged you to find $1.2 trillion in deficit reductions, but we urge you to think bigger and bolder. We believe that the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction should report a plan to Congress that would truly stabilize the debt as a share of the economy, and cut the deficit by $4 trillion over the next 10 years.
The roadmaps to achieve this goal are plentiful and bipartisan. In March, the Blue Dog Coalition outlined the “Blue Dog Benchmarks of Fiscal Reform,” which would cut the deficit by $4 trillion over ten years, stabilize the debt, and reduce the size of government. These benchmarks were based on the Fiscal Commission Report, but there are other large, bipartisan plans that achieve the same goals. The ideas are out there. Now we just need to prove that Congress has the political will.
We are heartened by the tone and optimism of your opening statements at the first official Joint Committee meeting. We stand willing to work with you to achieve big results for the future of our country."
Yesterday, we released a letter signed by over 60 leading budget experts from various fields urging the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (“Super Committee”) to Go Big in its mission to address the nation’s deficit and debt. Since yesterday’s press conference with the Fiscal Commission co-chairs Erskine Bowles and Al Simpson (who are also on the CRFB board and chair our Moment of Truth Project), the Go Big philosophy has gained traction. It was mentioned in pieces by Bloomberg, CNN Money, Reuters, the New York Times, the Washington Post and The Hill, to name a few.
But it isn’t only the press which is taking notice. Earlier today, Senator (and Super Committee Member) John Kerry cited our recent paper in endorsing our requests for what we want from the Super Committee. As he said:
“Last week, the Committee for a Responsible Budget, a bipartisan organization which includes some of our country’s leading experts on budget issues, including the co-chairs of the Fiscal Commission, recommended that this Committee “go big, go long, and go smart…
Director Elmendorf’s testimony today helps solidify the reality that we need to “go big” and reach savings of more than $1.5 trillion to address long-term deficits. We need to “go long” and address our long-term budget issues. And most importantly of all we need to “go smart” and address the budget without preconceived dogmas or political agendas. So I look forward to delving more deeply into these issues today, and helping us shape recommendations for this Committee and this Congress to adopt. Thank you.”
Mr. Kerry’s remarks are quite encouraging, especially when combined with those of his Super Committee colleague, Representative Chris Van Hollen, who threw his support behind:
“Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles [who] called upon our Committee to ‘go big’ – urging us to use this unique opportunity to develop a plan to reduce the deficit by over $4 trillion over 10 years”
Additionally, in his statement today before the committee Rep. Rob Portman highlighted the insufficiency of cutting $1.5 trillion over the next decade as compared to the growth of debt during that same period. Rep. Dave Camp then reiterated the notion that “at least” $1.5 trillion must be found in debt reduction. It seems that both parties on the Committee share the goal of going for at least $1.5 trillion and a desire to fulfill their mandate to assure the long-run health of the economy.
We are optimistic that the media’s response and the support of some members of the Super Committee are an indication of the accessibility of the ‘Go Big’ mantra and will hopefully help to spur the Super Committee to exceed its mandate in its recommendations to Congress.
The hearing will feature expert testimony from Doug Elmendorf, Director of the Congressional Budget Office, and the Committee will broadly look at the history and drivers of our debt (see CRFB's budget slideshow for an overview of the fiscal situation today and what is driving our future deficits). Yesterday, CRFB released a letter signed by over 60 former politicians, business leaders, and other experts urging the Super Committee to "Go Big" and exceed its mandate. We are anxious to see the Committee begin its work, and hope they succeed in producing a plan that can stabilize our debt and set it on a downward path (see our latest paper, What We Hope to See from the Super Committee).
Also today, the Senate Finance Subcommittee on Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Growth will hold a hearing at 2pm on deficits with testimony from former CEA chair Martin Feldstein, former Fed chair Alan Greenspan, former Treasury official and former CEA member John B. Taylor, former Governor and Business Roundtable head John Engler, and former JCT chief of staff and USC professor Edward Kleinbard.
Yesterday, the President offered a plan for how he would pay for his $447 billion jobs proposal. The pay-fors would come entirely from revenues, mainly from limiting itemized deductions and other tax expenditures for people earning over $200,000 ($250,000 for families) per year. Other offsets would include closing tax loopholes for oil and gas companies, taxing carried interest as ordinary income, and changing depreciation rules for corporate jets, to name a few.
These revenues provisions would not go into effect if the Super Committee identified at least $1.65 trillion in savings (the original $1.2 trillion requirement plus $450 billion for the jobs proposals).
Edward Glaeser offers an alternative offset, raising the Social Security retirement age. As he states:
"Raising the retirement age was always going to be part of any sensible entitlement reform, and this is the right time to start paying for current tax cuts with future benefit cuts. Inserting an offsetting retirement-age increase into the American Jobs Act would be a good way to show the world that the U.S. is getting serious about its finances."
This offset makes a lot of sense, particularly for the $240 billion payroll tax holiday. To finance the payroll tax holiday, the President has proposed transferring money from general revenues into the Social Security trust funds, which raises the concern that such transfers will become commonplace as the program’s yearly shortfalls deepen. Instead, that money could come out of the trust funds, and be offset with future changes.
According to our estimates, a holiday of this size would increase Social Security’s long-term actuarial imbalance by about 0.1 percent of payroll. In the context of a plan aimed at closing the 75-year shortfall of 2.22 percent of payroll and a 75th year gap of 4.28 percent of payroll, identifying an extra 0.1 percent should not be too difficult. This money could come not only from increasing the retirement age, but also a combination of gradual reductions in the benefit formula, adjustments to the tax base, and a correction to the measure of inflation used to calculate cost of living adjustments (COLAs). Such a comprehensive plan would easily pay for the payroll tax holiday over time, and might even do so within the decade (and some existing plans certainly would).
With population aging and health care costs set to push spending to ever increasing heights, we need savings that can grow over time. Social Security reform, in general, would do this. And raising the retirement age would have the added bonus of improve long-term growth by incentivize longer working lives. Comprehensive Social Security reform will be critical piece of a well-crafted fiscal plan, but so will reform to health care spending and the tax code.
Are You Ready for Some (Political) Football? – Football season got underway this weekend with hard-hitting action and thrilling finishes. Additionally, the Super Committee kicks off its work in earnest this week. The games on Capitol Hill are no less fierce than those on the gridiron, but how it all ends is still in question. There are more twists and turns to the budget drama than there are GOP presidential debates (there was another last night). Meanwhile, policymakers are trying to play offense with the economy while defending against the growing national debt. The Super Committee holds its first hearing today with growing calls for members to “go big” and recommend more than the $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction it was charged with finding. With some doubting that the Super Committee will agree on $1.5 trillion in savings, is it realistic to ask for more? Well, if the Redskins can dominate the Giants, anything is possible.
Obama Goes Deep on Jobs Plan – President Obama announced his plan to boost the economy and add jobs last week before a joint session of Congress, and yesterday he formally sent the legislative proposal to Congress for consideration. The plan, which includes extending the payroll tax holiday, creating a national infrastructure bank, and repairing and modernizing schools and transportation infrastructure, will cost $447 billion. OMB Director Jacob Lew says the plan will be offset by limiting tax breaks for those earning more than $200,000 a year and by cutting oil and gas subsidies. Reducing and eliminating tax expenditures is an idea that has gained support on both sides of the aisle (see more on the topic here and here).
Will Super Committee “Go Big” on Deficit Reduction? – President Obama is asking the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (aka Super Committee) to go beyond the $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction it is mandated to recommend in order to pay for his jobs plan (the White House will release a detailed plan next Monday). A growing chorus of others is also asking the committee to “go big” and go beyond $1.5 trillion. Yesterday, CRFB convened a press conference with White House Fiscal Commission co-chairs Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson to release a letter from over 60 economists, business leaders, former policymakers and fiscal experts calling for the committee to go big. Many members of Congress also support going big. The committee holds it first hearing Tuesday with CBO Director Doug Elmendorf.
Appropriators Finally Moving the Ball, but the Clock is Ticking – While the Senate Appropriations Committee approved of three spending bills – Agriculture, Energy-Water, and Homeland Security – as well as the 302(b) allocations, lawmakers are also preparing a continuing resolution, recognizing that Congress will not pass all 12 FY 2012 spending bills before the new fiscal year begins on October 1. Once again, it looks like Congress will drop the ball on passing a budget in time.
Key Upcoming Dates
- The Super Committee holds its first public hearing at 10:30 am on the history and drivers of our debt and its threat.
- House Oversight Committee hearing on the president's jobs plan at 10 am.
- Senate Finance Committee Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Growth Subcommittee hearing examining whether there is a role for tax reform in comprehensive deficit reduction and U.S. fiscal policy at 2:00 pm.
- Federal budget for August released by Treasury Department.
- House Budget Committee hearing on "The Need for Pro-Growth Tax Reform" at 10 am.
- Senate Finance Committee hearing on tax reform options involving marginal rates, capital gains and dividends at 10 am.
- Senate Budget Committee hearing on "Policy Prescriptions for the Economy" at 9:30 am.
- Senate Finance Committee hearing on tax reform options that enhance retirement security at 10 am.
- House Speaker John Boehner gives jobs policy address to the Economic Club of Washington.
- Consumer Price Index for August released by Labor Department.
- Second GOP presidential debate in Florida.
- New fiscal year begins. Legislation fully funding the federal government, or a stopgap measure with temporary financing of government operations, must be enacted by this date.
- GOP presidential debate in New Hampshire.
- Congressional committees must submit any recommendations to the Super Committee by this date.
- GOP presidential debate in Nevada.
- The Super Committee is required to vote on a report and legislative language recommending deficit reduction policies by this date.
- The Super Committee report and legislative language must be transmitted to the president and congressional leaders by this date.
- Any congressional committee that gets a referral of the Super Committee bill must report the bill out with any recommendation, but no amendments, by this date.
- Congress must vote on the bill recommended by the Super Committee by this date. No amendments are allowed.
Letter Urging Super Committee to "Go Big" Signed by Over 60 Business Leaders, Former Government Officials and Experts
Following CRFB's theme of urging the Super Committee to "go big," a group of more than 60 former lawmakers, policymakers, economists and business leaders have signed a letter to the committee's co-chairs, urging them to exceed their mandate and put our country on a sustainable fiscal path.
The signatories of the letter run the gamut, from former Members of Congress, to former CBO and OMB directors, budget experts, business leaders, and professors. Despite their varying perspectives and ideological differences, all of them support a comprehensive budget plan that significantly exceeds the Super Committee's $1.5 trillion savings mandate.
The letter states:
We believe that a go big approach that goes well beyond the $1.5 trillion deficit reduction goal that the Committee has been charged with and includes major reforms of entitlement programs and the tax code is necessary to bring the debt down to a manageable and sustainable level, improve the long-term fiscal imbalance, reassure markets, and restore Americans’ faith in the political system.
This letter adds to the growing number of voices who are looking for a large, comprehensive deficit reduction plan from the Super Committee. We have shown that saving $1.5 trillion over the next decade, while helping to fix the problem, will not be enough. The Super Committee represents a major opportunity to put our nation on a firm fiscal path. Luckily, the signers of this letter agree.
Click here to read the full letter and list of signatories.
Update: Click here to watch C-SPAN's video of the press conference.
This afternoon, CRFB will be hosting a press conference at the National Press Club to urge the Super Committee to "Go Big." The press conference will feature remarks from co-chairs Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform in addition to comments from CRFB president Maya MacGuineas on why the Super Committee must exceed its current mandate if we are to put debt on a downward path this decade.
The press conference will begin at 2:30pm in the Conference Room at the National Press Club (529 14th Street Northwest, Washington, DC 20045). It will also be broadcast live on C-SPAN 3, so be sure to tune in.
At the event, CRFB will also release a letter co-signed by over 60 business leaders and policy experts urging the Super Committee to "Go Big." The New York Times published an article on the letter in today's paper, so it is clearly generating some attention.
Hope you can tune in!
Yesterday evening, President Obama addressed a Joint Session of Congress to propose his newest economic recovery measure -- The American Jobs Act. The President's bill would have a $447 billion ten-year cost, which the President says would be fully paid for in the proposal he will give to the Super Committee a week from Monday recommending the Committee exceed its $1.5 trillion mandate.
The AJA, designed to stimulate economic activity and spur job creation, includes a mix of tax cuts--including various payroll tax holidays and hiring incentives--and spending increases, such as new infrastructure spending and an extension of unemployment insurance. The proposal also includes job-retraining proposals through reform to unemployment insurance.
|Proposal||10-Year Cost (Billion)|
|Cut Employer Payroll Taxes from 6.2% to 3.1% and Create Bonus Payroll Tax Cut for New Jobs/Increased Wages||$65|
|Extend 100% Expensing for 2012||$5|
|Teacher Rehiring and First Responders||$35|
|Create an Infrastructure Bank||$10|
|Rehabilitate and Repurpose Vacant Property||$15|
|National Wireless Initiative (Paid For Through Spectrum Auction)||$0|
|Veteran's Hiring Initiative||N/A|
|Extend and Reform Unemployment Insurance||$49|
|Tax Credit for Hiring Long-Term Unemployed||$8|
|Create Fund for Low-Income Youth and Adults For Training and Year Round/Summer Jobs for Youth||$5|
|Cut Employee Side of Payroll Tax from 6.2% to 3.1% for 2012||$175|
It should be noted that the yearly spend out rate for the AJA might be similar, if not higher, than any one year that the 2009 ARRA ever had. According to CBO's analysis in January (Box 1-2), the maximum that the ARRA ever spent in a single year was $395 billion. We have yet to see if the plan is politically viable, and we are still waiting to see Obama's deficit reduction plan which would pay for it (we will release a paper later today with some ideas on why and how the President's jobs bill could be paid for).
As we suggested in a recent paper, one of the benefits if the Super Committee were to go big on deficit reduction and exceed its mandate would be fiscal space for near and long-term growth policies.
In case you missed it yesterday afternoon, CRFB put out its expectations for the Super Committee, urging them to Go Big! Given the severity of our debt challenge, enacting only $1.5 trillion savings over the next ten years is not enough. Compared to our Realistic Baseline, this amount would keep debt on an upward path relative to the economy, both over the medium-term and the long-term.
We have also suggested that reducing the deficit is not just a counting exercise; it must also Go Smart in a way that focuses on economic growth, which is what CRFB president Maya MacGuineas reiterated today in an op-ed in The Hill:
"...done right, a smart debt-reduction plan is absolutely central to an economic-growth agenda...One benefit of a medium-term plan is that it can leave room upfront for the economic recovery to continue to take hold... The way to focus on the real drivers of the budget problem and the real keys to growth is for the super committee to choose to go big and tackle all these issues in one large deal."
In the short term, deficit-reducing policies should be phased in gradually to avoid harming the recovery. For long-term growth prospects, the Commitee should tackle tax reform that broadens the tax base and lowers rates. Also, it should consider reprioritizing spending to focus more on the investment elements of the budget.
Finally, we also urge the Super Committee to Go Honest by not relying on budget gimmicks and to Make It Stick to reinforce savings once they are in place.
The perfect time for fiscal reform is now. The longer policymakers wait, the harder it becomes--both economically and politically.