Bipartisan House Group Sends Letter Calling for Budget Reforms

Today, a bipartisan group of 24 members of the House of Representatives sent a letter to House leadership calling for the inclusion of budget process reforms in the next Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 appropriations package, which could pass by March 11. The letter, led by Representatives Scott Peters (D-CA) and Jodey Arrington (R-TX) suggests a bipartisan fiscal commission and/or debt ceiling reforms as options to address our unsustainable fiscal outlook. 

The group urges House leadership to use the March 11 expiration for the current continuing resolution as an opportunity to enact reforms to address our growing national debt. While the group supports funding the government and avoiding any shutdown, they argue this is a critical moment to make important headway in addressing our unsustainable fiscal outlook. 

In the letter the Members write: 

Inflation is at a level not seen in decades and the federal debt is nearly the size of the economy and on pace to grow to greater than 106% of GDP by the end of the decade... In just the last five years, legislative and executive actions have added $13 trillion to the projected debt in 2031, not just in response to COVID-19, but because of Congress perennially broken budget process and fiscal policies... It’s our job to responsibly fund the government and avoid costly “continuing resolutions” and shutdowns. At the same time, we owe it to our children to acknowledge our country's unsustainable fiscal trajectory and work together, across the aisle, to address it over time.

Read the full letter here

The letter outlines two budget process reforms to include in the next appropriations package. The first is a debt commission, as modeled by Representatives Ed Case (D-HI) and Steve Womack (R-AK) in their Sustainable Budget Act. The legislation would establish a fiscal commission with a non-binding and flexible goal of a long-term balanced budget, excluding interest. The bipartisan commission would be made up of 18 commissioners, 12 appointed by Congress, split by chamber and party, and the remaining six by the President, with a maximum of four from one party. If the commission’s recommendations passed with the support of at least 12 commissioners, including at least four votes from each party, the President would be required to take the recommendations, consult with the relevant committees in Congress, and submit a joint resolution to Congress. This joint resolution would receive expedited consideration in Congress, while maintaining the 60-vote threshold in the Senate.

The second reform is to include specific provisions to ensure budgets set goals that would reduce the long-term debt-to-Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ratio and the threat of default from the debt ceiling. The Responsible Budget Act offered by Representatives Peters and Arrington serves as a model. The legislation outlines two different avenues to avoid default. The first would lift the debt ceiling by generating a Joint Resolution following Congress’ passage of a concurrent budget resolution if it meets specific debt reduction targets. The President would then sign the Joint Resolution to lift the debt ceiling for the fiscal year. If Congress fails to use this option by the April 15 deadline, the second option would grant the President authority to lift the debt ceiling for the fiscal year but allow Congress 30 days to override that decision with a resolution of disapproval, subject to a Presidential veto. In tandem with the extension, the President must submit a debt reduction proposal for Congress to vote on that reduces the debt-to-GDP by 5 percent of GDP by the tenth year relative to the Congressional Budget Office's (CBO) baseline projections. 

Recently, before the House Budget Committee, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) cited the Responsible Budgeting Act bill as a pragmatic option for reforming the debt limit. Additionally, the Bipartisan Policy Center contends the legislation would “avoid debt limit brinkmanship, and instead, produce a recurring, structured process focused on fiscal responsibility.” The legislation has also received support from former Chairmen of the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Budget Committee, in addition to the Progressive Policy Institute's Center for Funding America’s Future, The Manhattan Institute, and American Action Forum. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget supports both the Sustainable Budget Act and the Responsible Budgeting Act.

Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, said in a statement:

We applaud this bipartisan group for putting forward reasonable ideas that would encourage lawmakers to generate bipartisan solutions to address our debt. A bipartisan fiscal commission could help the parties to come together on ways to bring our debt under control.  Meanwhile, reform to the debt limit could reduce the unacceptable risk of default while encouraging Congress to complete their budget on time and facilitating consideration of debt reduction plans. These commonsense ideas would be important steps in the right direction.

The Committee for a Responsible Budget commends Representatives Peters, Arrington and the other members for prioritizing a sustainable and fiscally responsible future.