September 2, 2014

House Considers Extenders Bill Adding $167 Billion to the Deficit Over Five Years

The extenders bill that the House will consider this week is a timely reminder of why it is important for Congress to complete action on a budget resolution.  A budget resolution continues to elude Congress, but there has been considerably less trouble reaching agreement on a bill that the Congressional Budget Office estimates will add a staggering $167 billion to the deficit over 2010-2014 and a net increase of $134 billion over 2010-2020. 


Last Thursday, leaders of the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee announced an agreement on the text for H.R. 4213.  While the bill has often been referred to as an extenders bill, it includes a long list of provisions, many of which go far beyond simply extending expiring tax and spending provisions.


Among the priorities in the bill:

  • $32 billion to extend expiring tax provisions
  • $33 billion for infrastructure incentives and spending
  • $79 billion in emergency spending to extend unemployment insurance benefits, premium assistance for COBRA benefits, and a Recovery Act provision increasing the federal share of Medicaid costs
  • $63 billion to increase Medicare payments for doctors
  • $56 billion in revenue offsets, including an increase in fees that petroleum producers pay to fund the oil spill liability trust fund

The bill is one of the first tests of the new PAYGO law, and the results are not encouraging.  It is commendable that the bill includes $56 billion in revenue offsets, though that still leaves $134 billion which will be added to the deficit. As the text of the bill made its away around Capitol Hill last week, some lawmakers questioned whether the bill is affordable, given annual deficits that are currently over a trillion dollars. Some emergency spending may be appropriate to provide assistance to the unemployed while the economy remains fragile, but the $134 billion cost of the bill goes far beyond what is reasonably necessary and affordable in the current fiscal environment.


In addition to including priorities such as extensions of unemployment and COBRA benefits, the 435-page bill includes other provisions such as infrastructure investments, aid to the states, funding for a summer jobs program, agriculture disaster assistance, a proposal to reallocate geothermal receipts, and funding to settle two class action lawsuits.  While many of these items may be worthwhile, it is time for Congress to begin making some difficult choices.  Our nation can no longer afford to say "yes" to everything and send the bill to our children and grandchildren.

 

Even more troubling is the fact that a bill adding $134 billion to the deficit is being considered before the FY 2011 budget resolution has been approved. In The Concord Coalition’s view, adding over a hundred billion dollars to the deficit is a decision that should only be made within the context of the broader fiscal framework that a budget resolution can provide.   As lawmakers begin reviewing the text and considering amendments, we strongly urge Congress to pass a budget resolution before adding to the deficit. In the meantime, lawmakers should either find more offsets or scale back the provisions in the bill.


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