Reps. Carney and Renacci Release Bill Improving Budget Process

This week, Representatives John Carney (D-DE) and Jim Renacci (R-OH) introduced a bipartisan bill to improve the budget process. The Budget Integrity Act of 2015 contains many changes similar to the recommendations we have made in our Better Budget Process Initiative papers Improving Focus on the Long Term and Improving the Debt Limit

The bill would make five main reforms:

1.  Require Long-Term Cost Estimates for Legislation with a Significant Fiscal Impact – As we proposed in our paper, Improving Focus on the Long Term, the Budget Integrity Act would require more long-term scoring of select legislation. Specifically, it would require the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates to include an analysis of the 30-year impact of legislation with a projected gross budgetary impact of at least 0.25 percent of Gross Domestic Product ($45 to $69 billion) in any year this decade. This is similar to the provision included in the conferenced budget resolution that we've written about.

2.  Codify Rules Objecting to Legislation That Would Increase Long Term Deficits – As we mentioned in our paper, Improving Focus on the Long Term, Senate rules currently include a point of order against legislation that increases the deficit by more than $5 billion in any of the four decades beyond the 10-year budget window; 60 votes are required to wave this point of order. The Budget Integrity Act codifies this rule into law so it cannot be repealed or changed by a new Senate rule, and also applies this point of order to legislation in the House.

3.  Require CBO and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Reports on Revenue, Deficits, and Debt over 40 Years – The Budget Integrity Act proposes specifying that CBO and OMB should report 40-year budget outlooks with their normal 10-year projections. It also requires these reports to include long-term projections for both current law and current policy.

4.  Tie Budget Resolutions to a Corresponding Increase in the Debt Limit – One of the options we presented in our paper Improving the Debt Limit would link debt limit increases to the borrowing required under the tax and spending policies assumed within the budget resolutions. The Budget Integrity Act would do just that by providing that adoption of a budget resolution conference report generates legislation increasing the debt limit to accommodate the debt levels in the budget resolution.

5.  Government Accountability Office (GAO) Study of the Effect of Off Balance Sheet Liabilities – The Budget Integrity Act would require an annual GAO study of the off-budget commitments such as shortfalls in government trust funds. The study would continue to focus on the long term by requiring GAO look at the next 75 years.

The Budget Integrity Act makes very important improvements to the budgetary treatment of the long term and provides a responsible mechanism for addressing the debt limit. CRFB president Maya MacGuineas said the following in a letter to the sponsors of the bill:

The proposals in this legislation would help to focus attention on the nation’s long-term budget situation, which is too often overlooked in the current budget process. The bill would also improve Congressional accountability by linking increases in the debt limit to revenue and spending decisions in the budget resolution. This represents one of many sensible approaches we discussed as options to reform the debt ceiling in our recent paper: Improving the Debt Limit.

Although budget process reforms are not a substitute for enacting actual policies to bring down deficits, this bill would provide greater transparency and accountability in the budget process that could help lawmakers to take action to address our unsustainable long-term budget outlook

We thank Congressmen Carney and Renacci for introducing a thoughtful bill, and we hope other lawmakers will consider it and put forward ideas of their own.

For additional budget process resources including specific options for reform, visit our Better Budget Process Initiative home page.