Congress Can’t Avoid Real Debate on Debt Reduction Forever

By Shai Akabas

Thursday, April 19, 2012

 Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, frustrated by the gridlock on fiscal issues that afflicts both Chambers in Congress, moved the ball forward yesterday.

While some analysts wondered why a “non-markup markup” was scheduled by the Chairman, Conrad’s reasoning seems sound: 1—lay down a marker for the chaos that we will call the “Lame Duck” session after the November elections; and, 2—keep very much alive the bipartisan plans devised by the President’s fiscal commission and the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Domenici-Rivlin Task Force.

The same logic compelled the proposed FY 2013 budget resolution authored by Reps. Jim Cooper (D-TN) and Steve LaTourette (R-OH). Their budget received only 38 aye votes on the House floor and some wondered at the time what purpose could have been served by such an overwhelming defeat. But, the effort helps lay the groundwork for the great debate that Congress must have soon on fiscal policy.

These actions by Conrad, Cooper and LaTourette help keep fiscal issues, federal indebtedness, and long-term bipartisan solutions at the forefront of policymaking. And, the subject must be kept vibrant.

Predictably, many United States senators from both sides of the aisle scattered like a covey of quail when Conrad dared to reveal his proposal. This is especially ironic since all six of the senators serving on the Simpson-Bowles Commission essentially supported this exact set of recommendations just over a year ago.

Recently, most congressional action has revolved around “message” legislation. “Democrats will protect Medicare from horrible Republicans.” “Republicans will make sure Democrats don’t raise your taxes.” If you ever wonder why most voters – even the best informed – tune out politicians, it may be in large part because all the voters hear is banal talking points.

By keeping alive the topic of the looming fiscal crisis confronting America, the congressional centrists do one more critical thing—they inform the public. So far, most congressional pronouncements on budgets have been a form of “disinformation.” One side says you can solve the debt crisis by raising taxes on very rich Americans. The other side says you can solve it just by cutting federal spending. Both contentions truly are disinformation. We get message legislation like a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution or mechanistic approaches like the sequester.

Fiscal policy will become an important part of all federal elections this November, not just the presidential contest. The more Americans hear a real debate, founded on the real choices necessary to get fiscal sanity restored, the better.

Chances for such a wide-ranging debate increase every time a serious budget proposal emerges. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan has proposed, and the House has passed, a serious proposal. Now, Chairman Conrad has proposed one. Indeed, one could make the case that more detailed budget proposals have been made this spring than ever before—the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Cooper-LaTourette, Conrad, the Sen. Pat Toomey initiative, Ryan, and others. More choices than ever are potentially before the American voters. “Potentially,” because all of the budget proposals demand real sacrifice from parts of society and politicians often shy away from discussing that reality.

Any real, long-term solution to America’s fiscal dilemma involves three elements—economic growth, increased revenues, and restraint in entitlement program spending. None of those three alone will work. The more Americans hear the truth, are really informed instead of patronized, the better the chances that Congress and the president will grudgingly cooperate.

So, we send our congratulations to Chairman Conrad for his courage and his foresight.


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2012-04-19 00:00:00
If you wonder why voters tune out politicians, it may be because all voters hear is talking points