Integrating the Budget Process and the Campaign

Harvard Law School professor Howell Jackson has an interesting idea in a Reuters op-ed: if fiscal issues are going to be extremely important in the coming years, why not create a process that would encourage Presidential candidates to come up with a fiscal plan?

Jackson's idea is this: have Congress give fast-track authority to whoever wins the election to consider a fiscal plan immediately after Inauguration Day. The plan in consideration must meet certain fiscal benchmarks and be provided by the August before the election to be eligible for the authority. To some extent, this sounds like the Super Committee authority that Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) proposed extending to any bipartisan fiscal plan that members of Congress produced.

In addition, Jackson proposes making CBO responsible for scoring candidates' fiscal plans since no formal authority currently exists in that realm (although US Budget Watch, a project of CRFB, will be releasing scores of the candidates' plans soon). This would ensure that the public had reliable numbers, rather than relying on claims by the campaigns themselves, and it would ensure that campaigns got specific enough about their proposals, since CBO would need specifics to be able to score them.

Jackson argues that the allure of having expedited consideration of a fiscal plan in Congress would compel the candidates to produce a plan, despite the traditional misgivings they have about getting specific. It would also elevate the fiscal debate to a much more visible stage and produce more honest discussion.

Overall, Jackson's proposal is a very interesting way of forcing candidates to truly engage in the fiscal debate that they need to be having.