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Federal spending is out of control. Year after year, Congress fails to pass the required appropriations bills before the Sept. 30 deadline. After relying on continuing resolutions to keep the lights on, Congress finally passes massive omnibus spending bills chock full of new spending and bad policy.
What’s more, Congress only budgets for a third of total spending, with the rest operating on auto pilot, allowing them to kick the can down the road on the biggest spending drivers. No wonder the total national debt surpassed $23 trillion.
Congress’ budget process is broken. We need to fix it.
As Americans for Prosperity’s new policy analysis report lays out, the Bipartisan Congressional Budget Reform Act, sponsored by Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi, with Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse as lead cosponsor, is a great first step toward fixing Congress’ fiscal insanity.
Enzi-Whitehouse would require the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to report the additional interest costs from increases in mandatory spending, revenue changes and emergency spending.
Interest on the debt — payments made to our creditors that don’t fund any programs — is one of the largest items in the federal budget. For 2020, interest costs total $479 billion. In 10 years, it will be nearly double, at $900 billion. That’s more than we currently spend on Medicare, Medicaid or defense.
What’s more, with trillion-dollar deficits back on the scene, every additional expenditure is guaranteed to generate higher interest costs. Enzi-Whitehouse would incentivize lawmakers to be more careful about additional spending and to plan more carefully for emergency expenditures.
Too often, Congress finds sneaky ways to spend beyond the spending caps it has set for itself. Lawmakers routinely categorize regular spending, which is subject to spending caps, as emergency spending, which is exempt from those caps.
Enzi-Whitehouse would tighten this loophole. It would require CBO to assume that spending under those exempt categories does not automatically recur. In other words, if lawmakers need to use funds for emergencies, disasters or overseas contingency operations, they would need to plan for it.
Enzi-Whitehouse would also require CBO to make public its methodology. This would allow analysts to review how it reaches its conclusions and offer feedback.
Quick! How Many Programs Does the Federal Government Have?
If you don’t know the answer, that’s OK — neither does the federal government.
The government has so many programs that it can’t accurately estimate their number. Many are duplicative, and lawmakers don’t typically audit them to make sure that spending is simple and consolidated.
Enzi-Whitehouse would implement regular portfolio reviews to analyze program finances and sustainability and suggest options for deficit reduction. It also would require Congress to regularly review major policy categories, such as welfare and defense.
A Path Toward More Responsible Spending
Congress has established debt limits, but routinely raises them to continue its habit of reckless spending.
Enzi-Whitehouse would set specific targets for the ratio of debt to GDP. This would give Congress a clear picture of what is needed to stabilize spending and craft a rational fiscal policy.
But beyond that, the bill would make this debt-to-GDP ratio enforceable by requiring the Senate to vote on deficit reduction legislation with limited debate and no filibusters.
Tell lawmakers to support Enzi-Whitehouse
Enzi-Whitehouse does not tell Congress what programs to cut, whether it should raise taxes, or offer any specific fiscal policy. But it does tell Congress this: Sit down, commit to enforceable deficit reduction targets, and figure out how to get there.
Sign the petition to tell lawmakers: Pass the Bipartisan Congressional Budget Reform Act. It’s time we got the budget process back on track.