‘Line’ Items: Offsets and Coming to a Resolution on the Budget

Congress Extends Unemployment Benefits, Along With the Deficit – Last week Congress extended expanded unemployment benefits, COBRA subsidies, the Medicare “Doc fix” and several other provisions through the end of May without any offsets to the $18 billion cost with passage of the Continuing Extensions Act, HR 4851. The Senate rejected three amendments from Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) that would have paid for the extension by rescinding unobligated federal funds and other offsets. Democratic leaders said offsetting the cost would set a bad precedent since bills deemed emergency legislation like this package are not typically offset. CRFB would like to see such a “bad precedent” set – having warned against bypassing pay as you go rules through the “emergency” designation and calling for longer-term offsets.

Fleeting Moment for Fiscal Responsibility – There was a brief moment of fiscal responsibility in the Senate on Wednesday as it upheld a budget point of order against the legislation because it was not offset, as PAYGO demands. However, a second vote was held open for almost two hours to allow Senator Pat Leahy to arrive from the funeral of a friend to be the 60th vote to override the objection. If only Congress displayed that type of dedication to addressing the debt.

Offsets Will Be a Recurring Issue – A longer-term extension through the end of the year is being held up over how to pay for it, Politico points out. With low-hanging fruit like the black liquor tax credit used by the health care bill, lawmakers are finding it difficult to identify painless offsets to pay for their priorities. That is why the bank tax proposed by President Obama in January as a part of his financial sector reform agenda is being seriously eyed as a revenue raiser. The Senate is expected to take up financial regulatory reform legislation this week.

Budget Decision Looming – The Senate Budget Committee has scheduled a mark-up of the FY 2011 budget resolution for Wednesday and Thursday of this week. House leaders are expected to decide this week if they will go ahead with a resolution. Leaders have floated the possibility of not producing a budget blueprint this year amid a packed Hill calendar and election-year pressures. The April 15 deadline for producing a resolution passed last week without any action. CRFB and other groups have called on Congress to do its job and produce a blueprint. With a new study from the Pew Research Center indicating the public has an extremely low opinion of Congress and its ability to get anything done, producing a sensible budget blueprint could help resurrect its image.