House Members Promote a Bipartisan Framework for Budget Reforms

A bipartisan group of 60 lawmakers, led by Representatives Scott Peters (D-CA) and Jodey Arrington (R-TX), released a letter to House leadership this week calling for future budget reforms to help policymakers address rising debt levels once the economy recovers and the public health crisis has passed.

The letter emphasizes the importance of addressing the current crisis and the necessity of significant near-term borrowing, while calling for reforms to improve transparency, accountability, and responsibility over time. Specifically, the bipartisan group calls for requiring a Fiscal State of the Nation address, establishing a commission or commissions to rescue trust funds or address the debt, and creating a new process for setting debt-to-GDP targets rather than relying on debt ceiling standoffs to foster fiscal discussion.

The letter reads:

“We must confront the economic fallout from this crisis head on. As the crisis recedes and our nation recovers, we cannot ignore the pressing issue of the national debt, which could do irreparable damage to our country...

We, therefore, respectfully request that further pandemic-response legislation include provisions for future budget reforms to ensure we confront these issues when the economy is strong enough. These reforms should have broad, bipartisan support. They should not stand in the way of our making the necessary decisions to deal with the crisis at hand. They should ensure that, in addition to addressing health and economic needs, we lay the foundation for a sustainable fiscal future by building on reforms with established bipartisan support.”

The letter includes three recommendations of policies that could be coupled with further COVID relief:

  1. Improve transparency with Fiscal State of the Nation – such as the one proposed by Representatives Kathleen Rice (D-NY) and Andy Barr (R-KY) – where the Government Accountability Office (GAO) would publish an annual report on the nation's fiscal health and the Comptroller General would present the findings to a joint meeting of the Congressional Budget Committees. Other initiatives to highlight debt and budget issues could complement such a presentation.
  2. To improve accountability through a bipartisan commission to address the nation's long-term fiscal health. Options could include: bipartisan, bicameral commissions to rescue trust funds as under the Time to Rescue United States Trusts (TRUST) Act introduced by Senators Mitt Romney (R-UT) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Representatives Mike Gallagher (R-WI) and Ed Case (D-HI); a broad fiscal commission (like the Simpson-Bowles Commission) such as under the Sustainable Budget Act by Representatives Case and Steve Womack (R-AR); or a new Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction such as the “super-committee" established under the Budget Control Act of 2011.
  3. Improve responsibility with a process to establish fiscal goals – such as debt-to-GDP targets – to replace the debt limit or debt limit brinkmanship as long as the budget is on track. Such goals were a key part of the Bipartisan Congressional Budget Reform Act, which Chairman Mike Enzi (R-WY) and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) shepherded through the Senate Budget Committee last year.

The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget strongly supports these efforts. While high levels of borrowing are reasonable and necessary during the current crisis, unsustainably rising debt could slow future economic and income growth, crowd out other priorities, increase the risk of a fiscal crisis, and reduce the ability or willingness of policymakers to respond appropriately to future emergencies.

As Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, said in a press release:

“To control a dangerous virus and prevent significant economic damage, Congress made the right call in rapidly approving trillions of dollars in fiscal aid to fight the pandemic and recession. However, we entered this crisis with an already unstable debt situation, and given that we will borrow more to help deal with this emergency, it will make getting our debt under control even more important in the coming years... 

This group of lawmakers put forth a number of bipartisan ideas to help bring more transparency, accountability, and responsibility to the budgeting process and provide congressional leadership with broadly-supported recommendations to break the gridlock. Seeing members of Congress with such a wide array of views working toward consensus on this critical issue is a hugely positive sign...

“More than anything, a bipartisan framework for budget reforms such as this will start a conversation on how to tackle these challenges. Solutions like bipartisan commissions, annual reports on our nation’s fiscal health, and agreed-upon debt-to-GDP targets would help lay the groundwork to identify medium- and long-term fiscal policies that can put our deficits and debt back on a sustainable trajectory that leaves us with more room to respond to future downturns and crises.”

Policymakers need to continue to respond to the pandemic and the economic crisis. At the same time, members of Congress should not lose sight of longer-term challenges. This letter strikes the right balance by asking for a future process – after the pandemic and economic crisis have eased – to address our unsustainable fiscal outlook.

You can read the full letter here. Signors include:

Democrats Republicans
Scott H. Peters (D-CA) Jodey Arrington (R-TX)
Ben McAdams (D-UT) Jim Banks (R-IN)
Dean Phillips (D-MN) Tom Reed (R-NY)
Ed Case (D-HI) Bill Huizenga (R-MI)
Stephanie Murphy (D-FL) Mike Johnson (R-LA)
Kathleen M. Rice (D-NY) Lloyd Smucker (R-PA)
Kurt Schrader (D-OR) Dan Crenshaw (R-TX)
Derek Kilmer (D-WA) Vicky Hartzler (R-MO)
Jimmy Panetta (D-CA) Dan Newhouse (R-WA)
Cindy Axne (D-IA) Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA)
Tom O'Halleran (D-AZ) Mike Gallagher (R-WI)
Anthony Brindisi (D-NY) Rob Woodall (R-GA)
Ron Kind (D-WI) Warren Davidson (R-OH)
Kendra S. Horn (D-OK) Brad Wenstrup, D.P.M. (R-OH)
Abigail D. Spanberger (D-VA) Darin LaHood (R-IL)
Jim Cooper (D-TN) Tom Rice (R-SC)
Jim Costa (D-CA) George Holding (R-NC)
Henry Cuellar (D-TX) Drew Ferguson (R-GA)
Xochitl Torres Small (D-NM) Ralph Norman (R-SC)
Daniel W. Lipinski (D-IL) David Schweikert (R-AZ)
Collin C. Peterson (D-MN) Ron Estes (R-KS)
Joe Cunningham (D-SC) Mark Walker (R-NC)
Harley Rouda (D-CA) Jason Smith (R-MO)
Ann McLane Kuster (D-NH) Roger Marshall, M.D. (R-KS)
Colin Allred (D-TX) Debbie Lesko (R-AZ)
J. Luis Correa (D-CA) Bruce Westerman (R-AR)
Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA) Adrian Smith (R-NE)
Terri A. Sewell (D-AL) Jack Bergman (R-MI)
Sharice L. Davids (R-KS) Mike Kelly (R-PA)
Gilbert R. Cisneros, Jr. (D-CA) Roger Williams (R-TX)