Bill H.R. 6957 Acts on Debt Transparency, as H.R. 6952, 5779 Aim to Address Fiscal Policy

by John Endean

January 25, 2024 at 9:45PM EST


To ABC Members and Friends:

Last August, I wrote Representatives Bill Huizenga (R, MI), and Scott Peters (D,CA) congratulating them for forming the House Bipartisan Fiscal Forum.  Subsequently, one of the members of that forum, Representative Chrissy Houlahan (D, PA) joined us at our fall meeting.

This week the House Budget Committee passed on a bipartisan basis and sent to the floor three pieces of legislation that came out of the work of the Forum and the more general concern about our looming national debt.  The first two described below were adopted unanimously and passed on a voice vote while the third carried the Committee by a vote of 22-12.

H.R. 6957, “The Debt to GDP Transparency and Stabilization Act”  This bill would require that the President’s annual budget submission to Congress and any concurrent resolution on the budget include the ratio of the public debt to the estimated gross domestic product of the United States.  Simply put, this change would insert into official budget proposals a straight apples-to-apples comparison of the likely change in size, relative to the overall economy, of our debt.  It should have been mandated years ago; it is an obvious managerial tool.

H.R. 6952  “The Fiscal State of the Nation Act”  As you know, the Treasury Department annually submits to Congress an audited statement of the Federal Government.  (Those who remember our past visits with Representative Jim Cooper will know the importance he and other budget hawks placed on this often-neglected document.)

To cast a light on the audit, H.R. 6952, Congress, in the words of the bill, “shall hold a joint meeting…to receive a presentation from the Comptroller General reviewing the findings of the audit…including financial measures (such as the net operating cost, income, budget deficits, or budget surpluses) and sustainability measures (such as the long-term fiscal projection or social insurance projection) described in such report….The Comptroller General of the United States shall ensure that the presentation at the Joint Meeting is made in accordance with the Strategies and Means of the Government Accountability Office, so that the presentation will provide professional, objective, fact-based, nonpartisan, nonideological, fair, and balanced information to the members attending the Joint Meeting.”

This joint meeting would be open to the public, to the press, and to C-SPAN.

H.R. 5779 “The Fiscal Commission Act of 2024”  As its title suggests, this bill would establish a sixteen-member commission to propose legislation that would stabilize the ratio of public debt to gross domestic product to no more than 100% within 15 years.  The deadline for the Commission’s report is December 12, 2024, but by a simple majority vote that deadline could be pushed to May 15, 2025, thereby keeping  the commission’s proposal out of the lame‐​duck Congress.  Any changes recommended by the Commisssion  to trust fund programs like Social Security and Medicare would have to guarantee their solvency for seventy-five years.

The Senate Majority and Minority Leaders and the Speaker of the House and the Minority Leader are to determine the Commission’s membership (each would have four selections).  Overall, twelve Commissioners would be legislators, while four would be (non-voting) budget experts.  A simple majority of the voting members would be sufficient to adopt the Commission’s legislative recommendations, provided that the majority consist at a minimum of two Republicans and two Democrats.

Outlook  These bills are a modest step in the right direction to raise public awareness of the debt crisis and, perhaps, come up with proposals to address it meaningfully.  I think at least the first two bills have a real chance of passage and, as for the Fiscal Commission, I would not discount its prospects, either.  A $34 trillion federal debt does concentrate the mind wonderfully, or, at least, it should.  In any case, I shall write those behind these efforts and offer our support.