Line Items: Gettysburg Address Edition

Historic Moment – On this day 150 years ago, President Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address dedicating the new national cemetery at the site of the epic Civil War battle. We observe that historic moment at a time when the “government of the people, by the people, for the people” that Lincoln defended appears at a low ebb. Congressional approval ratings are at record lows and other institutions are also suffering. One of the reasons for the lack of confidence is the seemingly endless crises created by policymakers as they continuously kick the can on addressing our fiscal challenges. It seems like it’s been fourscore and seven years since we had a federal budget and there is little optimism that the conference committee charged with negotiating one will have much success. We’ll see how our leaders address the task before them.

Budget Conference Talks Continue; Little Progress Seen – The Gettysburg Address was a very short speech that has had significant impact over time. The conference committee trying to establish a budget at least for the rest of the fiscal year has featured a lot of talk so far with no results as of yet. The committee convened its second formal meeting last week where it heard from Congressional Budget Office (CBO) director Douglas Elmendorf, who made it clear that long-term budget challenges still remain despite deficits coming down in the near term. While committee member Sen. Angus King (I-ME) served up a compromise “Grande Plan” for fellow conferees to consider, there has been no noticeable progress towards a budget deal. The panel has until December 13 to report to the full Congress but appropriators want agreement on a topline spending number before that so they can get to work drafting spending bills.

Will Tax Reform Have Its Moment? – The Battle of Gettysburg was a chance encounter. Advance units of the North and South converged just outside of the town, eventually drawing their larger forces into a three day battle. For the past year Senate Finance Committee chair Max Baucus (D-MT) and House Ways and Means Committee chair Dave Camp (R-MI) have been attempting to create a similar set of circumstances. The bipartisan duo has been working within their respective committees on a fundamental rewrite of the tax code and toured the country together to promote tax reform in the hopes that their efforts would converge at the right moment. On Tuesday Sen. Baucus continued his work by releasing the first tax reform discussion draft – a proposal to change international taxation to encourage American companies to stop keeping profits offshore in order to avoid higher U.S. taxes. He promised more drafts would come later this week. Meanwhile, Rep. Camp had promised that his committee would mark up a comprehensive tax reform bill this year, but that plan may be pushed back until next year as the debate over the Affordable Care Act is taking up much of the oxygen. Follow our “Tax Break-Down” series as we continue to examine tax expenditures that could be included in tax reform.  

No Lack of Ideas – While policymakers continue to struggle to devise a fiscal plan for moving the country forward, it is not for a lack of ideas. In fact, CBO provided over 100 ideas last week in its updated “Options for Reducing the Deficit: 2014 to 2023.” The ideas cover all areas of the budget. Our “Build Your Own Budget” tool allows you to choose from many ideas to create your own budget plan. 

Addressing Health Care – Health care has received a lot of attention as of late, but beyond website problems and questions over who gets to keep their health insurance is the larger concern of reducing the growth of health care spending. Health care is one of the largest drivers of the national debt moving forward. Last week the CBO’s Doug Elmendorf gave a presentation substantiating the view that significant long-term deficit reduction cannot be achieved without addressing health care costs. Our partners at the Moment of Truth project recently collaborated with the National Coalition on Health Care to examine how payment and delivery reforms can contribute significantly to driving down cost growth. 

Key Upcoming Dates (all times are ET)

November 20, 2013

  • Bureau of Labor Statistics releases October 2013 Consumer Price Index data.

December 13, 2013

  • Date by which the budget conference committee must report to Congress.

January 1, 2014

  • The "doc fix," temporary tax extenders, extended unemployment insurance benefits, and the farm bill expire.

January 15, 2014

  • The continuing resolution funding the federal government expires.
  • 2014 sequester cuts take effect.
  • First set of IPAB recommendations expected.

February 7, 2014

  • The extension of the statutory debt ceiling expires.