April 16, 2014

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Sunday, April 25, 2010 - 9:53 PM

President Obama’s bipartisan fiscal commission will hold its first meeting on April 27. It has two very ambitious assignments -- find a way to balance the budget excluding interest on the debt by 2015 and “meaningfully improve” the long-term fiscal outlook. All of this is supposed to be done by December 1, 2010.

That’s quite a task. It may even be too much to ask. So here is a simple suggestion for the commission: Leave the short-term goal to the regular budget process and focus on the more important long-term goal.

Finding long-term solutions to the nation’s unsustainable fiscal outlook is what originally motivated members of Congress to propose a statutory commission. Only when that effort failed did the President step in by establishing an executive commission with the added goal of filling a gap in his budget.

The short-term budget goal could easily distract the commission from its long-term mission. Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, a commission member, had it right when he told POLITICO last week, “I don’t think a commission should be absorbed with the short-term budget. We need them to focus on long-term structural problems.”

Simply determining which baseline to use in assessing the required deficit reduction in 2015 would get the commission bogged down. They can’t know what it...

Wednesday, March 31, 2010 - 11:00 AM

According to a March 29 Roll Call article (subscription required), Senate Republicans have gone home for the two-week congressional recess with a strategy memorandum advising them to call for repeal of “Medicare cuts, tax hikes, mandates and sweetheart deals” in the new health care reform legislation.

Leaving aside the sweetheart deals, repeal of the other three items would amount to a fiscal catastrophe. One can legitimately argue that the law will end up costing more than anticipated or that some of the proposed savings will fail to materialize. Claims of big deficit reduction do indeed rest on some shaky assumptions, and the law certainly leaves a lot of work to be done on fiscal sustainability. However, the surest way to guarantee exploding deficits would be to leave in place all of the popular insurance reforms and repeal the politically difficult choices that have been made to pay for them.

Expanding health insurance coverage costs money. Unlike the 2003 Medicare prescription drug bill, this plan at least attempts to pay for its new spending by cutting future Medicare costs and raising new revenues. Constituents may not like these things but they are essential parts of the law. They are also protected by...

Wednesday, February 17, 2010 - 9:39 PM

With today being the one-year anniversary of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (more commonly referred to as “the stimulus”), and President Obama expected tomorrow to announce his Presidential commission for deficit reduction, I’m hearing a lot of claims and rhetoric about what has “worked” versus what has not, and what has to be done going forward versus what should remain “off limits.”

In all these arguments and politically-colored “evaluations”, I hear misplaced focus on (the stark and easy-to-talk-about) absolutes, averages, and aggregates, when what matters economically are relatives, marginals, and individuals.

Let me elaborate a bit with the two issues at hand…

On the Stimulus: Republican critics of the stimulus argue that the “proof” that the stimulus hasn’t worked lies in the still-bad numbers of the unemployed–-that since ARRA’s passage last year, total jobs in the economy have decreased, not increased.  As the New York Times’...

Thursday, January 28, 2010 - 10:52 PM

If fiscal responsibility calls for significant changes in the big federal entitlement programs, shouldn’t the defense budget face scrutiny and reductions as well?

That question comes up a lot when The Concord Coalition emphasizes the need for entitlement reform. The answer is, “Yes.”

About a fifth of the federal budget goes to the Pentagon, and it is clear that there are many opportunities to achieve significant savings without jeopardizing national security.

Petty turf wars, bureaucratic bloat, poor planning, lax bookkeeping, no-bid contracts, illogical personnel policies and simple extravagance all inflate the defense budget in ways that knowledgeable taxpayers understandably resent.

In addition, short-sighted members of Congress often champion unnecessary defense spending -- or at least turn a blind eye to it -- in deference to the special interests that stand to profit.

All of this adds to the nation’s fiscal imbalances and massive borrowing. That’s why The Concord Coalition supports careful review of the defense budget to identify reasonable reforms and spending cuts.

In calling for a bipartisan fiscal commission that would submit recommendations to Congress, for example, we have stressed the importance of giving the panel a broad mandate that puts everything on the table. That...

Sunday, January 24, 2010 - 9:06 PM

As the White House and congressional leaders rethink health care reform after the Republican upset in the Massachusetts Senate race, there is a growing danger that Congress will jettison comprehensive health care reform altogether. Even worse, they might pass stripped-down measures that eliminate politically difficult cost-containment, while popular but costly provisions are kept.

President Obama has suggested narrowing the focus of national reform, advising that Congress should “try to move quickly to coalesce around those elements of the package that people agree on.” Some members of Congress have also expressed support for a limited bill.

However, most policy experts agree that a limited bill is nearly impossible to construct without running into some major issues with short and long-term costs. That is because the easier elements -- the ones that “people agree on” -- are interlocked with elements whose benefits are far less apparent to many voters.

The key reforms for the health insurance industry are popular -- for instance, prohibiting discrimination based on pre-existing conditions. Yet, just doing that would lead to an insurance "death spiral" where only the sick would get insurance when needed, driving up the cost of premiums. The only way around this spiral is to have an individual mandate to...

Wednesday, January 20, 2010 - 2:57 AM

"It isn't fiscally irresponsible to raise the debt limit, I think it would be rather irresponsible not to raise the debt limit because we have already incurred the bill."

That quote, from Concord executive director Bob Bixby, is one of many from our new videos highlighting some of the key points driving fiscal discussions in Washington.

We recorded the videos because the Senate is set to begin debate on increasing the debt ceiling while all of Congress awaits the President's budget proposal, which will purportedly contain the Administration's ideas for how to reduce the country's budget deficits. 

The first shows a discussion about the basics behind increasing the debt limit and how there are a few key budget process reforms tied to fiscal responsibility that have become part of the debate as the Senate approaches a difficult vote. We talk about the possible Senate amendments...

Tuesday, January 19, 2010 - 6:52 PM

It’s a little amusing to see how badly the idea of a bipartisan fiscal commission has frightened some partisans at both ends of the political spectrum. That alone indicates the idea may have merit.

Some skeptics, of course, doubt that a special bipartisan panel would have any hope of success in steering the government onto a more responsible fiscal course. And there’s no question that this would be a very tough assignment.

But the strident opposition to a bipartisan commission from some critics on both the right and the left is rooted in fears that such a panel might actually succeed. They describe commission proposals in conspiratorial terms, as though serious bipartisan planning for the nation’s future would be merely a cover for shady plots to sneak reprehensible policies past Congress and the American public. Oh, the deceit of it all...

The Wall Street Journal, for example, recently ran an editorial conceding that “current federal commitments are unsustainable, starting with $37 trillion in unfunded Medicare liabilities.”

Yet the editorial ruled out a bipartisan commission that could tackle this...

Wednesday, December 23, 2009 - 4:07 PM

With the House having passed its version of health care reform (H.R. 3962) and the Senate on the verge of passing its version (H.R. 3590), the outline of a final bill is beginning to take shape. In our new Issue Brief, we look ahead at the fiscal considerations that will likely be the subject of conference committee discussions and “end game” negotiations. These include the cost of expanding coverage, the methods used to prevent that cost from adding to the deficit, and the prospects for systemic reforms to reduce cost growth over time. 

This issue brief gives The Concord Coalition’s perspective on how the bills measure up, what the risks are and how these risks could be lessened. We conclude that:

•    Both bills establish...
Tuesday, December 22, 2009 - 11:46 AM

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other members of Congress got a lot of good advice recently when representatives of The Concord Coalition’s fiscal advisory councils visited Capitol Hill to present their recommendations.

The basic message: Elected officials must make some dramatic changes to put the country on a more responsible fiscal course, protect our economic future and avoid saddling our children and grandchildren with massive debt.

Advisory council members from across the country -- Atlanta, Iowa, Milwaukee, Northern California and Philadelphia -- met with members of Congress and their staffs as part of The Concord Coalition’s National Conference of Fiscal Stewardship this month in Washington. The Fiscal Advisory Council of Northern Virginia had already met with several members of Congress in the fall. Representatives from the University of Denver, where the Fiscal Stewardship Project featured a special student engagement initiative this year, also attended the conference and met with elected officials.

In the conference’s opening...

Thursday, December 17, 2009 - 1:48 PM

As mentioned in the last post, the Senate dramatically weakened the Independent Medicare Advisory Board in the health care legislation currently being debated.

Today, Concord released an issue brief discussing this and highlighting the fact that there is an amendment being proposed by Senator Rockefeller that would restore the board's potential for cost control and delivery system reform. 

The legislative process right now is quite a jumble and it is unknown whether any amendments still have a chance to be voted on or folded into the final "manager's amendment." Hopefully, Senators concerned about cost control will see the wisdom in still altering the bill to strengthen its provisions on that score. Ruth Marcus at the Washington Post had a good column about this in the paper yesterday.