Letter to Budget Committee Chairmen: Focus on the Debt

We sent a letter to House Budget Committee Chairman Diane Black (R-TN) and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi (R-WY) last week asking them to include several measures in this year's budget that will make it easier to address the debt. The letter recommended that the Fiscal Year 2018 budget resolution include reconciliation instructions for each authorizing committee, deficit-neutral reserve funds for major tax and spending priorities, and strict enforcement of PAYGO rules. These recommendations, among others, were in our Principles for the Fiscal Year 2018 Budget Resolution earlier this year.

We have identified many policy options to achieve deficit reduction. However, reconciliation instructions are necessary to ensure that the committees of jurisdiction turn these policies into well-developed legislative proposals for Congressional consideration.

The Fiscal Year 2016 budget resolution adopted at the beginning of the 114th Congress called for a balanced budget in ten years, but Congress only enacted a small fraction of the spending cuts assumed in that budget resolution and actually enacted further legislation that increased the deficit.  Rules requiring that legislation be at least deficit-neutral, including strict enforcement of the Senate PAYGO rule, will make it harder for Congress to enact legislation that digs the deficit hole deeper. Similarly, including reconciliation instructions in the budget resolution will make it much more likely that any deficit reduction assumed in the budget resolution becomes a reality through legislative action.

We have put forward several proposals to strengthen PAYGO rules. At a minimum, lawmakers should preserve the Senate PAYGO rule without any changes or exemptions that weaken it.

As we explained in the letter from CRFB President Maya MacGuineas, a credible process means more than an aggressive fiscal goal:

While it is important to put forward a budget that proposes to reduce debt levels as a share of the economy, reaching any fiscal goal on paper is far less important than putting forward a credible process to actually achieve deficit reduction legislatively.

With our debt at its highest level as a share of the economy since World War II, we need swift action to avoid endangering our fiscal future. Congress can begin by establishing and enforcing rules against legislation that would make the deficit worse than current law projections. However, with debt projected to continue increasing as a share of our economy under current law, it is not enough to simply avoid making the deficit worse. Congress needs to take active steps in order to reduce our long-term debt and put us on stable fiscal footing.

We hope the House and Senate Budget Committees take stock of our fiscal situation, stop digging, and begin the hard work of putting our debt on a downward path.

To read MacGuineas’ letter in full, click here.