Several Amendments Would Improve the Senate Budget
The Senate is considering the FY 2018 Senate budget resolution this week. As is, the budget would facilitate legislation to add significantly to debt, but several amendments to the budget resolution would make it more fiscally responsible. At the same time, one amendment would make it easier for lawmakers to get around budget caps. Below are several amendments to the Senate budget with fiscal implications, many of which were already proposed during the Senate Budget Committee markup.
Several responsible amendments...
Striking the exemption from Senate PAYGO rules for the reconciliation bill
If a bill is estimated to increase five- or ten-year deficits, it would normally be subject to a 60-vote point of order due to the Senate's pay-as-you-go (PAYGO) rules. However, the Senate budget includes a reserve fund that allows a reconciliation bill to get around this rule if it meets the budgetary targets it lays out for the bill.
Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) has proposed striking this exemption, which would require the reconciliation bill to either not increase deficits or get 60 votes to advance. This amendment, which was also offered during the Budget Committee markup, should be adopted to ensure fiscally responsible tax reform. As CRFB President Maya MacGuineas said in a letter supporting the amendment:
The Senate PAYGO rule reflects the common sense principle that Congress should pay for priorities instead of adding to the debt. This principle has a strong history of bipartisan support . . . Lawmakers should maintain it on a bipartisan basis without exceptions.
Re-establishing and strengthening the 28-hour rule
The Senate budget repeals the requirement that a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) score be made available 28 hours before a Senate floor vote on legislation reported out of a committee. The 28-hour rule was originally added in the FY 2016 budget and provided a 60-vote point of order against votes that violated the 28-hour rule.
As he did in the Budget Committee markup, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) has offered an amendment to strike repeal of the 28-hour rule from the budget. The amendment would also expand the rule by applying it to other legislation, including amendments in the nature of a substitute and reconciliation bills. It is always a good idea for lawmakers to know the budgetary effects of the bill they are voting on, so we encourage adoption of the amendment.
Re-establishing the Conrad Rule
The Conrad Rule, named after former Senate Budget Committee Chairman (and current CRFB board member) Kent Conrad (D-ND), subjected reconciliation bills that added to deficits within the ten-year budget window to a 60-vote point of order before it was repealed in the FY 2016 budget resolution. This rule was analogous to the Byrd Rule, which provides a point of order against bills that adds to deficits beyond the ten-year window and is still in effect.
Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) has offered an amendment to reinstate the Conrad Rule, which would provide a roadblock for a reconciliation bill that would increase ten-year deficits. We strongly encourage the adoption of this amendment as well. CRFB president Maya MacGuineas said:
The reconciliation process was designed to make it easier to advance legislation in order to address our nation’s fiscal challenges. It should not be used to rush through a bill to blow a hole in the deficit. The amendment offered by Senator Baldwin would restore a shield to prevent reconciliation from being used to add to the debt. It is fiscal common sense and important especially now as lawmakers confront growing debt.
Removing the Finance Committee reconciliation instructions
The Senate budget includes reconciliation instructions to the Senate Finance Committee for a tax cut that could increase the deficit by up to $1.5 trillion over ten years. As we have explained before, this is a very irresponsible policy that would drive up an already-high debt and is at odds with the budget's goal of on-budget balance.
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) intends to offer an amendment that would strike the Finance Committee instructions, which would leave just the instructions to the Energy and Natural Resources Committee to reduce deficits by at least $1 billion. This would make the budget much more responsible on the most actionable part of the Senate budget.
And some amendments that could be irresponsible...
Limits on Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) spending
Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) is a category of discretionary spending intended to fund the wars overseas that is uncapped unlike other discretionary spending. Because of this, it is often used to get around the caps on other defense and non-defense discretionary spending, including in the FY 2017 omnibus that provided $14 billion more for OCO than President Trump requested. The Senate budget creates a point of order that would require 60 votes for any spending designated as OCO.
There may be amendments going in both directions on OCO spending. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) has publicly called for eliminating all $77 billion of OCO funding from the budget, while other Senators have advocated increasing OCO funding from the current budget amount of $77 billion. In addition, there may be an amendment striking the point of order against OCO funding designations. Any effort to set OCO funding above the President's request or to eliminate the point of order against designating OCO should be opposed in order to prevent the continued of OCO as a gimmick to get around the budget caps.
Several amendments to the Senate budget would help make the budget more responsible, though a few would go in the opposite direction. We strongly encourage lawmakers to adopt amendments to prevent deficit increases and gaming of the budget process.