House of Representatives
A month and a half ago, Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) released his "Roadmap for America's Future," a detailed plan to reform taxes and spending, and ultimately address our long-term debt problems in full. The CBO score of the proposal found that it would significantly improve our current debt path, and eliminate the debt in its entirety by 2080.
Temporary Tax Extensions Avoid “The Hurt Locker” – The Senate passed H.R. 4691, a 30-day extension of several expired tax breaks and unemployment and health-care benefits, last week after reaching a deal with Senator Jim Bunning (R-KY). He had blocked the vote because the $10 billion measure was not paid for. Under the deal the Senate considered a Bunning amendment to offset the cost; the proposal was voted down.
Unable to pass health care reform using “regular order,” Congressional Democrats now are turning to much-misunderstood process known as “budget reconciliation” to enact the measure. They'll still have to do legislative back flips to get the job done, but the process gives Democrats two major advantages: In the Senate, debate is limited to 20 hours--in other words, no filibusters allowed--and it can pass the Senate with 51 votes, rather than the 60 that much legislation has been required to overcome the filibuster threat.
Given the present economic and political climate, many are eying Constitutional changes to help improve the budget situation.
In yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, Representatives Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) and Mike Pence (R-IN) proposed a Spending Limit Amendment to the Constitution. The amendment would limit federal spending to one-fifth of the economy. The limit could only be waived by a two-thirds vote in Congress or a declaration of war.
Highway to Nowhere – Sen. Jim Bunning (R-KY) has blocked a vote on temporarily extending unemployment and COBRA benefits, the Medicare “doc fix” as well as some surface transportation programs funded through the Highway Trust Fund because the $10 billion cost is not offset. He wants unused economic stimulus funds to cover the cost. The Department of Transportation has furloughed 2,000 workers in response.
Those were some of the words uttered by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) today at the Brookings Institution as the latest political leader to warn about the crushing weight that our deficits and ballooning debt would bring to bear on future generations. Hoyer’s bottom line was that if nothing is done soon, in the not so distant future, our entire economy will not provide enough to pay for all the promises that have been made by the federal government.
Last night, Senator Jim Bunning blocked an effort to pass a one-month “extenders” bill by unanimous consent. The bill includes temporary extensions of unemployment benefits (and related provisions), COBRA health insurance subsidies, Medicare physician payment updates (to block a 21 percent cut), and other smaller provisions – all scheduled to expire on Sunday.
Commission Commencement – President Obama signed Thursday the Executive Order officially creating the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. He also named former Clinton White House Chief of Staff Erksine Bowles and former Republican Senator Alan Simpson as the bipartisan co-chairs of the panel.
Snow Job – Just hours after Senators Max Baucus (D-MT) and Charles Grassley (R-IA) announced they had reached a deal on a jobs bill, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) plowed it under, saying it was too bloated with provisions not related to creating jobs. The Senate will consider the scaled-down version Reid crafted on February 22 when it returns from its week-long President’s Day recess.