Growing Support for Bipartisan Budget Reform

A bipartisan group of 60 legislators led by Representatives Scott Peters (D-CA) and Jodey Arrington (R-TX), released a letter to House leadership in early June calling for the inclusion of budget reforms in the next coronavirus relief package that would set the stage for a conversation about our nation's budget after we have recovered from the health and economic crises. The letter signers are a diverse group with 30 from each party and include members of the New Democrat Coalition, Blue Dog Coalition, Republican Study Committee, House Freedom Caucus, Tuesday Group, Problem Solvers Caucus, and Bipartisan Working Group, among others.

While highlighting the importance of substantial short-term spending to address the current crisis, this letter calls for increased Congressional transparency, accountability, and responsibility for the country's long-term fiscal health. The recommendations include implementing an annual Fiscal State of the Nation, establishing bipartisan commissions to address the budget or rescue trust funds, and establishing a process to set fiscal goals that, if adhered to, would provide relief from the debt limit.

Outside of Congress, groups and individuals are coming forward to support the letter. See some examples below:

Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget - "We're delighted to see Representatives Arrington and Peters lead this effort to put forward a bipartisan framework for budget reforms. Responding to the pandemic is paramount right now, but we'll need to pivot to addressing our unsustainable debt trajectory when the economic and health crises have receded. This framework would be an important step toward ensuring we both take necessary measures to strengthen the economy during this emergency, and then strengthen our fiscal situation once we are on sounder economic footing. Their leadership is appreciated." (separate press release here)

Mitch Daniels, Leon Panetta, and Timothy Penny, Co-Chairs of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget - “The pandemic and associated economic crisis are inflicting terrible damage on the American people. Lawmakers have provided substantial resources to address COVID-19 and to support households, businesses, and the economy. In response to this emergency, the nation has little choice except to borrow.

Nonetheless, our long-term fiscal outlook was unsustainable before the pandemic. Our nation’s debt is headed to unprecedented levels as a share of the economy. Once the health and economic crises recede, lawmakers should make it a top priority to take concrete steps to bring the debt trajectory to more sustainable levels. Though health and economic support are the immediate priorities, policymakers should include in forthcoming legislation bipartisan provisions to lay the groundwork for a fiscal recovery once the economy is strong enough, so that we effectively combat the pandemic and the recession, and then address our unsustainable debt.”

Ben Ritz, Director of the Progressive Policy Institute’s Center for Funding America’s Future - Congressman Scott Peters (D-CA), one of the most outspoken advocates in Congress for tying financial support programs to the state of the economy rather than allowing them to expire on arbitrary calendar dates, has embraced a similar framework. He recently led a bipartisan letter with 59 cosigners urging Congressional leaders to adopt long-term debt-to-GDP targets and create a series of commissions to close the shortfalls facing major federal programs such as Social Security and Medicare. These programs comprise over half of federal spending and face the prospect of becoming insolvent within the next decade, potentially leading to across-the-board benefit cuts for millions of seniors if no action is taken, making them an ideal starting point for post-pandemic deficit reduction (both through revenue increases and benefit reforms). Peters should be commended for his forward-thinking leadership.

Hon. David M. Walker, Former Comptroller General of the United States - “I commend Rep. Peters, Rep. Arrington and the other bipartisan Members of Congress who are calling for additional fiscal transparency over the financial condition and fiscal outlook of the country, greater accountability and mechanisms to address the sustainability challenges associated with social insurance ‘Trust Funds’, and revised budget controls in light of the huge increases in debt/GDP that will result from the impacts of COVID-19. These Members rightfully understand that emergency actions were needed to address COVID-19, but that it is also important to demonstrate to the American people the need to put the nation’s finances in order when we defeat this virus.”

Diane Lim, former Chief Economist of the Democratic Staff of the House Budget Committee and House Ways and Means Committee - “The ongoing pandemic crisis and its devastating economic consequences mean that running large budget deficits is an absolute necessity. Nonetheless, the current crisis is not an excuse to totally abandon fiscal responsibility in our policy plans going forward. It is still the case that even the federal government faces budget constraints over the long term—that borrowed funds are not free money and must be made up later with future budget surpluses, regardless of how low interest rates are. For the sake of younger and future generations, it’s important that this bipartisan group of representatives is now speaking up and urging their leadership to commit to working together to get back to a more sustainable fiscal outlook once the economy gets past the current crisis.”

Jessica Anderson, Executive Director of Heritage Action for America - "Rep. Arrington and Rep. Peters are exactly right to bring attention to the skyrocketing national debt. As GDP and revenues fall while government spending rises, the nation's deficit is exploding. Congress must make meaningful budget reforms and return transparency, accountability, and responsibility to the budget process." 

Robert L. Bixby, Executive Director of The Concord Coalition - "When 60 members of the House, 30 from each party, come together on a set of recommendations for difficult and long-festering problems, the rest of us should take note. Each of the members who signed their names to this letter knew full-well that they could be exposed to political fire from interest groups, partisan opponents and perhaps even primary challengers within their own ranks. Nevertheless, they came forward, together, in the national interest.

We need more such examples of cooperation and political courage. We should applaud their effort, and more importantly, we should help them achieve their goals."

Romina Boccia, director of the Heritage Foundation’s Grover Hermann Center for the Federal Budget - it’s critical that concerned lawmakers do the hard work of forging a bipartisan commitment to reform the key drivers of unsustainable budget growth — health care and old-age entitlement programs — and put the budget on path to balance, without undermining economic growth.”

As Congress continues to increase spending and reduce taxes for pandemic and economic relief, lawmakers should consider the country's long-term fiscal health and include measures to help lawmakers turn toward stabilizing the debt after the economy has recovered.