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A Good Faith Negotiation

July 29, 2019
Weekly Columns

The U.S. House of Representatives recently wrapped up its legislative activity before heading into the August work period, and I am proud to report that lawmakers ended on a high note with passage of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019. I am encouraged that lawmakers worked together to provide certainty and stability for the American people, and I am hopeful for swift passage of the legislation in the Senate.

Just as its name suggests, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019 is indeed a bipartisan product. While no one will claim the legislation is perfect, it represents a true compromise achieved as a result of the good faith negotiation between President Donald Trump and leaders in both chambers of Congress. The two-year budget agreement addresses several areas of concern related to the nation’s debt and government funding.

First, the agreement avoids the terrible consequences of defaulting on the national debt, which would lead to extreme economic chaos for American markets. And in setting new budgetary levels for fiscal years 2020 and 2021, the Bipartisan Budget Act also prevents the automatic discretionary spending cuts set to take place across the board in October due to sequestration. With funding levels in place, the agreement gives Congress the ability to proceed with confidence and clarity in the appropriations process for the coming fiscal year. Finally, it resumes the process of rebuilding our military after years of underfunding caused a severe readiness crisis.

Certainly, I would have preferred a scenario that didn’t require suspending the debt ceiling. While that was not the case here, it was a sobering reminder about the urgent need to slow down and pay down the nation’s growing debt. And I hope it finally spurs action in Congress. Until lawmakers work on comprehensive reform to deal with what’s driving our debt, this issue will keep coming up.

As I’ve noted on many occasions, the real challenge is spending on the mandatory side of the federal budget – including interest on the national debt. Comprising more than two-thirds of all spending in 2018 and on track to cover at least 77 percent by 2028, mandatory spending is by far the largest category and rapidly growing on autopilot. Unlike discretionary (or annual) spending, mandatory spending is essentially left as is unless lawmakers offer solutions for reform to various programs—like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, which automatically pay out benefits to those eligible and enrolled.

Clearly, to make real progress toward tackling our burden of debt, tough decisions and careful solutions are required. But the solutions must include reforms to save and sustain the mandatory programs serving many vulnerable Americans. I believe a good place to start on this front would be passage of legislation I introduced again this Congress, the Bipartisan Social Security Commission Act. The bill calls for a bipartisan and bicameral commission tasked with recommending reforms to ensure Social Security is solvent for at least 75 years. Congress would then be required to vote up or down on the commission’s recommendations within 60 legislative days.

To be clear, both sides involved had to give up some things to reach the necessary agreement contained in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019. But that is what makes a compromise, and that is what enables lawmakers to get things done, especially in this era of divided government.