Bipartisan House Group’s Call for Urgent Budget Reforms Gets Bipartisan Lashing From Critics

June 1, 2020 Updated: June 3, 2020

Sixty bipartisan representatives urged House leaders on June 1 to include budget reforms on the nation’s spiraling national debt and unfunded Social Security and Medicare benefits in the next CCP virus response bill, but critics across the political spectrum were unimpressed.

Led by Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.) and Rep. Jodey Arrington (R-Texas), the group of 30 representatives from each party told Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) that failure to act “could do irreparable damage to our country.”

“According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the debt held by the public is likely to exceed 100 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in just a few months, and it will hit record levels in a few years,” the group told Pelosi and McCarthy in a letter.

“In addition, trust funds for some of our most critical programs will face exhaustion far sooner than we expected as a result of the current crisis. Trust fund insolvency threatens serious hardship for those who depend on the programs,” the group wrote.

The reforms should be included in the next economic recovery bill, the group stated, “to ensure we confront these issues when the economy is strong enough.”

It isn’t clear from the letter, however, if the group wants its recommended reforms included in a revised version of House Democrats’ recently passed $3 trillion relief bill or in that bill’s potential successor, the sixth such measure this year.

The recommended reforms include an annual debt report by the Government Accounting Office (GAO), special congressional committees to deal with debt and benefit rescue packages, and an overall strategy for dealing with the debt that includes “debt-to-GDP targets.”

The national debt is rapidly approaching $26 trillion, while the most recent trustees’ reports, both issued prior to the CCP virus pandemic sent U.S. unemployment to near-Great Depression levels, project Social Security’s trust funds will be depleted by 2035 and Medicare’s Hospital Insurance Fund by 2026.

Observers across the political spectrum, however, dismissed the group’s letter as too vague and unlikely to go anywhere in Congress.

“The idea that they would try to attach these budget reforms—modest though they may be in the grand scheme of the problems we are facing—to the next pandemic response is ridiculous and is going nowhere fast,” Jim Manley, former communications director to then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), told The Epoch Times on June 1.

“As long as Republicans are even refusing to discuss new revenues, there is nothing to talk about because entitlement reform alone won’t cut it,” Manley said, referring to increases in federal taxes.

“Members of the House and Senate decry deficits but love voting to increase them. Neither party has any moral high ground to stand on,” said Jimmy Williams, former senior economics adviser to Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.). “That being said, sure, let’s have yet another commission to offer up yet more recommendations that yet again fail to materialize.”

Democratic campaign strategist Max Burns doubts voters worry about the debt amid riots in major cities following the May 25 death of George Floyd while in the custody of a Minneapolis policeman.

“The past four years have shown voters just don’t seem to care about the national debt and federal spending nearly as much as Washington, D.C. think tanks would have us believe—it just doesn’t move the needle in an era of sweeping unrest,” Burns said.

Skepticism was also voiced on the right, as Taxpayers Protection Alliance (TPA) President David Williams told The Epoch Times that “taxpayers don’t want any more committees or reports, they want action. The more Congress talks about a problem, the less time they’re actually fixing the problem.”

And Brian Darling, former senior counsel to Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), said that on the debt issue, “Congress has shown cowardice and has steadfastly refused to cut anything … both parties are holding hands on a historic spending spree, with zero ideas on how to cut unnecessary spending to get the budget closer to balance.”

Darling said he has “zero confidence in Congress doing anything but raising revenues through hidden taxes like a Value Added Tax (VAT) or some other sneaky way to raise revenue to close the gap, because true reform of entitlements is never actually on the table.”

The response to the congressional letter wasn’t entirely critical, though, as Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, said in a statement, “Responding to the pandemic is paramount right now, but we’ll need to pivot to addressing our unsustainable debt trajectory when the economic and health crises have receded.”

Romina Boccia, director of the Heritage Foundation’s Grover Hermann Center for the Federal Budget, told The Epoch Times that “it’s critical that concerned lawmakers do the hard work of forging a bipartisan commitment to reform the key drivers of unsustainable budget growth—health care and old-age entitlement programs—and put the budget on path to balance, without undermining economic growth.”

Contact Mark Tapscott at Mark.Tapscott@epochtimes.nyc.