Rep. Cooper Offers Amendment Based on Fiscal Commission Plan

Unlike the haggling over spending for this year, which finally ended today with passage of legislation funding the federal government for the rest of the year, the debate over the FY 2012 budget has produced a broader, longer-term focus on our problems and possible solutions.

Several thoughtful and ambitious proposals have been put forth recently. While each has its merits and has furthered the debate, none of them alone has offered the type of approach that can achieve the bipartisan support necessary to be enacted. Fortunately, Congressman Jim Cooper (D-TN) has enhanced the debate by presenting as an alternative a bold, yet balanced plan that can garner votes from both sides of the aisle. Cooper’s substitute amendment to the FY 2012 budget being debated in the House is based on the bipartisan plan produced by the White House Fiscal Commission. Unlike other Congressional alternatives presented thus far, it takes the approach that everything must be on the table and tackles all parts of the budget in a significant way.

Among its provisions, the measure sets annual discretionary spending caps and provides specific deficit reduction targets for each committee to meet. It also calls for fundamental tax reform that broadens the tax base, simplifies the tax code, and reduces or eliminates tax expenditures. It also sets specific annual deficit and debt targets, and sets a target for total revenue at 21 percent of GDP by 2020.


The budget plan also includes an “across-the-board abatement” to ensure that discretionary spending caps are met and a “debt stabilization process” to keep the budget on track to meet long-term targets. The trigger mechanism to enforce the budget targets is a critical provision. The Peterson-Pew Commission on Budget Reform has recommended annual targets and triggers to enforce them. The trigger specified in the Cooper amendment only prescribes a process in which Congress and the President must consider additional actions to ensure that the debt and deficit targets are realized, while the Peterson-Pew approach would provide for automatic reductions in spending and increases in revenue if Congress and the President failed to act.

The budget votes on the House floor planned for tomorrow, unfortunately, will be more about political posturing than finding common ground. The votes will fall along ideological lines and it is a foregone conclusion that the budget proposal from House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan (R-WI) will pass. It is equally certain that the Senate will not support the Ryan plan.

The proposal from Rep. Cooper, along with the ongoing work of the bipartisan Senate “Gang of Six”, advance the fiscal debate in the right direction.