The end of the 113th Congress saw the retirement of two Senators who actively fought for controlling and limiting the U.S. federal debt. Senators Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) and Dr. Tom Coburn (R-OK) gave farewell speeches in the final days of the Congress that addressed the fiscal position of the U.S.
Senator Saxby Chambliss has been a strong voice for the need for bipartisan action to address the debt. Along with Senator Mark Warner (D-VA), he was one of the cofounders of the bipartisan "Gang of Six", who attempted to assemble a bipartisan agreement on the deficit and debt in 2011. In his final speech on the U.S. Senate floor, he spoke briefly on the debt problem facing the country.
Second, it is imperative that the issue of the debt of this country be addressed. Just last week, our total debt surpassed $18 trillion. We cannot leave the astronomical debt our polices have generated up to our children and grandchildren to fix. It is not rocket science as to what must be done. Cutting spending alone, i.e. sequestration, is not the solution. Raising taxes is not the solution.
His farewell speech also covered the need for future budget agreements to bridge the gap between the two parties.
As Simpson-Bowles, Domenici-Rivlin, and Gang of Six agreed, it will take a combination of spending reduction, entitlement reform, and tax reform to stimulate more revenue. Hard and tough votes will have to be taken but that is why we get elected to the United States Senate. The world is waiting for America to lead on this issue and if we do, the U.S. economy will respond in a very robust way. The Gang of Six laid the foundation for this problem to be solved, and it is my hope we do not leave the solution for the next generation.
The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget hosted a policy discussion this past Tuesday on dynamic scoring. CRFB President Maya MacGuineas opened the event by noting that dynamic scoring is an issue that will receive considerable attention over the coming months and could have an impact on fiscal policy decisions. Speakers offered their perspectives on the merits and challenges of using dynamic estimates in the legislative and budget process. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) and Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) offered remarks on their opinions and perspectives on dynamic scoring. A panel of dynamic scoring experts followed, moderated by CRFB President Maya MacGuineas. See CRFB's paper on dynamic scoring for a detailed discussion or our updated 2-page summary.
Sen. Portman spoke in favor of CBO and JCT providing dynamic estimates of bills. He argued that, at the very least, estimates should be done to inform staff and lawmakers how bills will affect the economy. He spoke about the bipartisan support for his bill, which passed by a vote of 51-48 with six Democrats voting in favor of it, when he offered it as an amendment during consideration of the FY 2014 Senate budget resolution. Portman acknowledged that there is a legitimate debate over which models and assumptions should be used, but he encouraged detractors to support presenting dynamic estimates as supplemental information, as his amendment would, not for official purposes. It would be apparent if dynamic estimates are significantly different than current methods, and policymakers would be able to look back to see which estimates were more accurate.
Congressman Van Hollen gave the opposing viewpoint. Van Hollen argued that dynamic scoring inherently demands that CBO or JCT adopt a specific ideology when estimating a bill. He mentioned estimates from the Heritage Foundation predicting revenue increases from the 2001/2003 tax cuts and claims that the 1993 tax increases would harm the economy. He also said that many models for dynamic analysis make assumptions about future actions to offset the cost of tax cuts, effectively giving legislation credit for policies not in the bill. He drew a distinction between the CBO estimate of immigration reform legislation, which took into account the direct impact of additional workers in the labor force, and dynamic estimates which incorporate the estimated indirect economic effects of legislation. Van Hollen reminded audience members that CBO and JCT already use microdynamic analysis in scoring bills—they weigh behavioral responses from individuals and businesses and the factors of supply and demand. He also acknowledged that dynamic analysis is useful as supplemental information, as long as policymakers understand the underlying assumptions.
In response to the recent VA scandal and hospital backlogs, Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has proposed legislation that would address the situation and authorize additional funding for the Department of Veterans' Affairs (VA). Congressional Quarterly's (subscription required) Alan Ota explains:
Appropriations season is in full swing. The House has already passed the Legislative Branch and Military Construction-Veterans Affairs bills, while the Senate Appropriations Commitee is scheduled to officially set 302(b) allocations and mark up the Military Construction-VA and Agriculture bills this Thursday.
The Senate is moving forward with tax extenders legislation, renewing a variety of breaks that expired at the end of last year for research, small business, and wind energy, among other provisions.
The Senate Finance Committee held a hearing May 6th titled, “New Routes for Funding and Financing Highways and Transit.” During the hearing Senators and witnesses covered a range of topics including the consequences of the impending insolvency of the Highway Trust Fund (HTF), the Administration’s four-year transportation proposal, and other budgetary, economic, and administrative issues with transportation funding.
The first official meeting of the conference committee is expected to occur sometime next week, at which point the conferees will begin attempting to reconcile the Senate and House budget proposals. Both budgets were passed with largely partisan support, so both Democrats and Republicans will need to look toward compromises over the next two months.
Bipartisan discussions over how to end the partial government shutdown and raise the debt ceiling are coming down to the wire as this week begins, with only three days left until October 17 -- the date that Treasury Secretary Jack Lew says the U.S. government would be left with a dangerously low amount of cash on hand and default could potentially be imminent.
Today, the Fix the Debt Campaign's Congressional Fiscal Leadership Council released an open letter signed by a group of 120 former Members of Congress, calling for the President and Congress to start addressing the nation's fiscal problems. The members express that returning to the normal budget process is essential, and recognize that while working toward a bipartisan agreement may be difficult, it is necessary:
While it is incredibly disappointing that elected officials in Washington failed to avoid a government shutdown, attention is quickly turning towards raising the federal debt ceiling, which currently stands at $16.699 trillion.