October 2, 2014

Lessons from This Year’s Failures

  • One of the drivers of the country's current fiscal policy debate has been the work of the President's bi-partisan National Commission on Fiscal...

In the wake of the super committee’s failure last week, Congress faces some key decisions on expiring policies over the next few weeks that could have a significant impact on the federal deficit in the years ahead.  

On Monday, for example, Senate Democrats introduced legislation to temporarily extend and increase this year’s cuts in Social Security payroll taxes, to 3.1 percent of wages for employees and reducing employers’ contributions as well. Also Monday, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell called for prompt passage of legislation aimed at creating jobs.
 
Some lawmakers also continue to express interest in undermining the “automatic” cuts that are supposed to make up for the super committee’s inability to agree on a $1.2 trillion deficit-reduction plan.
 
In moving forward, lawmakers should heed two important lessons from this year’s mistakes on the budget, says Robert L. Bixby, executive director of The Concord Coalition: “Focus on the issues that matter most, and don’t exclude the public from the discussion. If the events of 2011 have taught us anything, it is that backroom negotiations over limited goals are not how our fiscal challenges will be solved.”
 
In a new op-ed for CNN, Bixby emphasizes that Congress must also look even beyond the coming decade. With Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security all growing faster than both the economy and projected government revenue, he says, it is crucial for Congress to make cost-saving reforms in those programs.
 
At the same time, he adds, there is “ample room” to reform the tax code by cutting back on loopholes, lowering rates and bringing in more revenue.
 
Because such sweeping changes will need public understanding and support, Concord has urged members of Congress with different viewpoints to hold “two-by-two” fiscal forums in which they present undisputed facts and engage with each other’s constituents about budget options.
 
“Back in Washington,” Bixby writes, “members should also pair up in co-sponsoring bipartisan plans to address the deficit, with or without the support of congressional leaders. Efforts such as the Senate’s ‘Gang of Six’ should be revived and expanded. The logical place to start is with the recommendations of the Bowles-Simpson and Rivlin-Domenici commissions.”
 
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