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986 Billion Shades of Grey: Debt Deal Dodges Big Decisions


Brandon Arnold
October 17, 2013

On the evening of October 16th, Congress sent H.R. 2775 to President Obama, who promptly signed it into law. The legislation temporarily restores funding for certain parts of the federal government and suspends the debt limit. Though many members of the political and economic community greeting this development with relief, passage of H.R. 2775 isn’t cause for a celebration – it contains mixture of both good and bad policies. More than anything, the bill buys Congress a few additional months to work on the most critical fiscal issue facing the nation: the long-term debt crisis.

When it comes to the federal debt, fiscal conservatives should be disappointed by the bill’s failure to meaningfully address the problem. Tackling the issue isn’t easy, as it requires reforms to popular programs like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, but doing so is imperative for the nation’s fiscal well-being.  The agreement provides barely a glimmer of hope for entitlement reform by requiring House and Senate negotiations on a budget. Taxpayers should demand much more from Congress.  Between now and February 7, when the debt ceiling will need to be readdressed, lawmakers should pursue spending reductions in an amount that is at least commensurate with the debt ceiling hike.

On the positive side, the bill preserves the sequester – although it could have been better in this regard. It funds the federal government at a rate of $986 billion, which is higher than the sequestration spending cap of $967 billion. Congress should have simply reduced funding to the statutory requirement, but instead chose to rely on the sequestration mechanism to bring spending in-line with the law. This is acceptable – as long as Congress keeps the sequester in place.  To make sure they do, taxpayers must be extremely vigilant, as many big-spenders in Washington are already working to undo it. In fact, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) reportedly rejected a proposal that would have given the executive branch more flexibility in adjusting to the cuts precisely because he feared doing so would make it more difficult to trash the sequester. Keeping the sequester spending caps in place will be one of the biggest policy battles over the next several months. You can help NTU’s efforts to “Keep the Caps” by clicking here.

Oftentimes when Congress considers “must-pass” pieces of legislation, Washington lobbyists frantically try to tack on unrelated bills or amendments that benefit their clients. Thankfully, H.R. 2775 did not contain any major extraneous provisions, like the Internet sales tax or an extension of the Farm Bill. However, it did include a number of smaller, unnecessary add-ons.  For example, the bill featured a $2.9 billion authorization for a dam project in Kentucky. Also included was a $174,000 payout to the widow of the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg. While it is customary to provide a year’s salary to the families of deceased lawmakers, in light of the Lautenberg family’s vast wealth, other benefits available to survivors, and the urgent nature of this bill, Congress could have foregone this extra payment.

On the issue of revenues, taxpayers may have dodged a bullet on H.R. 2775. It contained no new taxes or, as they are sometimes called, revenue-raising “loophole closures”. Once again, taxpayers must be vigilant on this issue. As Congress looks to reduce debt, many left-leaning politicians will attempt to hike taxes despite the fact that the Congressional Budget Office expects that revenues will soon exceed their 40-year averages. Please stay tuned as NTU will be engaged on this important issue and will need informed citizens like you to help us fight against tax hikes.

Overall, H.R. 2775 was a mixed bag of policies – good, bad, and ugly. Now that passage has occurred, it’s time for Congress to really get to work.  Tell your elected officials to pass meaningful reforms to entitlement programs and Keep the Caps by protecting the sequester.


 

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