House Budget Committee Considers Measures to Boost Fiscal Transparency and Create a Fiscal Commission

The House Budget Committee is holding a markup this morning on three budget reform bills. As the government is currently on an unsustainable fiscal path, reform efforts should be a top priority for consideration of all legislative activity. The centerpiece of the hearing will be consideration of the Fiscal Commission Act of 2023 (H.R. 5779) which would set up a bipartisan panel to produce a list of recommendations by later this year to reset the budget on a sustainable path. The National Taxpayers Union Foundation wrote more in detail about this important reform effort here. The other two bills would also implement notable reforms for budget transparency.

The second bill to be considered in the Budget Committee's hearing is the bipartisan Debt-to-GDP Transparency and Stabilization Act (H.R. 6957) introduced by Representatives Lloyd Smucker (R-PA) and Jared Golden (D-ME). This would implement a simple yet important reform requiring that the President's annual budget submission to Congress and budget resolutions considered in Congress include information reporting the ratio of the public debt to GDP. The dollar value of the current federal debt is bad enough, currently at $34 trillion and counting. But ensuring that White House documents provide context about the size of the debt relative to the entire economy should spur alarm about the dire fiscal state and inspire lawmakers to focus on narrowing that ratio.

At the end of Fiscal Year (FY) 2023, the GDP of the U.S. topped $26 trillion, the largest in the world, with China a distant second at under $18 trillion. However, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) the U.S.'s publicly held debt at the end of FY 2023 was 98 percent of GDP, and looking to the future, the federal debt will continue to rise, exceeding the output of America's economy in 2024 and rising to 119 percent of GDP in 2033. CBO's most recent long-term budget outlook warns that under current policies, the public debt is on track to escalate to 181 percent of GDP in 30 years. This is an unsustainable and perilous path. The grim debt-to-GDP ratio should be featured prominently in all official budget documents.

The third bill considered in the Budget Committee's markup hearing is the Fiscal State of the Nation Act (H.R. 6952) introduced by Reps. Blake Moore (R-UT), Scott Peters (D-CA), Andy Barr (R-KY), and Jimmy Panetta (D-CA). The President makes a State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress each year. This proposal would require the Comptroller General of the United States similarly address a joint session of Congress annually with a report on the financial situation of the federal government.

The Comptroller General is appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate to head the Government Accountability Office (GAO), an independent agency that serves as a watchdog of taxpayer dollars. GAO produces hundreds of reports each year examining government agencies large and small to identify waste and recommend opportunities for reform. 

Under the Fiscal State of the Nation Act, the Comptroller would be required to report in person and directly to all Members of Congress with non-partisan, objective, and fact-based information about the financial position of the U.S. including an account of operating costs, revenues, budget balances, and sustainability measures. The reform would also require that budget resolutions in Congress include a statement about the Comptroller General's findings.

These reform bills complement the aims of the Fiscal Commission Act of 2023 by increasing transparency of budget data in official White House and Congressional budget documents and providing a foundation for informed public discourse on our nation's financial future.