December 18, 2014

Congress Sounds Retreat on Difficult Choices

  • The federal budget is an expression of our country's values. Where we choose to spend and at what levels, how and who we tax, and the borrowing we...

After lawmakers last year reached a bipartisan budget agreement, this was supposed to be the year of a harmless fiscal ceasefire on Capitol Hill. Unfortunately, the ceasefire is becoming a retreat on fiscal responsibility.

“On issues ranging from tax and entitlement reform to highways and veterans health, Congress has backtracked, ducked and gimmicked its way around hard choices,” Concord Coalition Executive Director Robert L. Bixby writes in a blog post today. “This pattern does not bode well for any attempt to put the budget on a sustainable track after the fall elections.”

Trouble started in February when the House and Senate repealed a reasonable provision that limited cost-of-living adjustments for working-age military retirees -- something lawmakers had embraced only a month earlier. After that, Bixby notes, efforts to permanently fix the unworkable Medicare formula for paying doctors collapsed over the cost, and Congress resorted to yet another short-term patch.

Lawmakers this year have also failed to follow up on their rhetoric about tax reform, shown a reluctance to pay for sharp proposed increases in VA health care funding, and have so far failed to deal with problems with the highway trust fund, which will otherwise run out of money later this summer.

Even the process for making hard choices would be made more difficult by a proposal by Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) to add procedural hurdles for certain Medicare changes.

The status quo is unsustainable. Consequently, Bixby says, lawmakers should ask themselves “how they will ever get out of the straightjacket they are now drawing tighter and tighter around themselves.”