Congress' December Challenges Can't Wait

For Immediate Release

As lawmakers continue to debate the Build Back Better reconciliation bill, they have a number of pressing deadlines and policy issues that must be addressed this month. In particular, Congress will need to fund the government for Fiscal Year (FY) 2022, raise or suspend the debt limit, and address the PAYGO sequester. The following is a statement from Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget: 

December is going to be a busy month, and Congress can’t afford to be asleep at the wheel.

The current continuing resolution expires on Friday, December 3rd, which means Congress needs a new funding package to avoid a government shutdown. Unfortunately, it appears that another continuing resolution will be needed -- two months into the fiscal year, Congress has yet to complete its appropriations. This is the 25th year in a row that Congress hasn’t passed appropriations bills on time. It’s truly unacceptable that our leaders can’t fulfill this basic function of government. When they do finally agree on appropriations for this fiscal year, they should do so in the context of extending discretionary budget caps at responsible levels. With inflation high and debt near record levels, the last thing we need is to grease the wheels with even more deficit-financed spending.

Congress must also act quickly to raise or suspend the debt ceiling, as the government is likely to run out of cash before the end of December. Both parties are responsible for today’s high debt levels – driven by COVID relief, tax cuts, spending increases, and the underlying growth of health and retirement programs. Ideally, both parties would take responsibility for raising the debt ceiling. And ideally, they would do so while also passing measures to help control the debt, as has been done many times in the past. Sensible options include passing a package of gradual debt reduction reforms, the TRUST Act, a fiscal commission, reinstatement of discretionary spending caps, or other fiscally responsible reforms. Increasing the debt ceiling should be done to accommodate borrowing that has already been authorized, but it should not be used as a means to give a nod to more. Regardless, we cannot afford to play chicken with the full faith and credit of the U.S. government – we must raise the debt ceiling immediately, and it is reckless that we have not already done so. 

Finally, Congress must responsibly address the PAYGO sequester, which is slated to administer roughly $120 billion of cuts for FY 2022 starting in mid-January. Given that there is an unwillingness in Congress to let these cuts go into effect, they need to replace them with sensible policies rather than waive them and simply add more debt. There are a number of bipartisan alternatives to thoughtfully lower health care costs, reduce other spending, or raise revenue.

While Congress will almost certainly choose to avoid the PAYGO sequester, it should allow the restoration of the 2 percent Medicare sequester – in place for nearly a decade but currently suspended in light of the pandemic. Medicare physician payment bonuses, put in place as COVID relief, should also be allowed to expire as scheduled. If reforms are needed for the physician payment system, they should be carefully considered and fully offset over a reasonable timeframe.

While press attention has focused almost entirely on the Build Back Better Act, Congress has much to do this December that simply cannot wait. Our leaders must first and foremost do their jobs -- fund the government, address the debt limit, responsibly replace the PAYGO sequester, and do right by the American people.


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