The Budget Control Act of 2011 represents a chance to change the direction of the spending debate in Washington. First, it cuts and caps spending, saving approximately $1.2 trillion over 10 years (subject to CBO confirmation). It also creates a Joint Select Congressional Committee tasked with finding real savings and creating a clear path for its work product to actually receive an up or down vote, so we can begin the process of paying down our debt. Critically, this legislation flips the traditional debt increase dynamic on its head — instead of raising the debt limit first and looking for spending cuts later, this legislation requires that the cuts come first and the debt limit increase follows. Under this proposal, no further increase in the debt ceiling can occur until spending cuts greater than the requested increase are signed into law.
While some compare the new committee created by the Budget Control Act of 2011 to the many commissions that have tried and failed to achieve real change, there are key differences. The Joint Select Committee will have hard deadlines to produce real savings. Its work will also receive special consideration in both the House and Senate. And it would all have the force of law. Here’s how it would work:
- The 12 member committee has to produce a work product by November 23, 2011.
- It would have to file its final legislative proposal in the House and Senate by December 2, 2011 after which it is introduced as a bill.
- The Joint Committee bill would be debatable in the House for two hours and would not be subject to amendment. In the Senate, debate on the measure would be limited to 30 hours total, including procedural votes and quorum calls, would not be amendable, and would need a simple majority for passage.
- The bill requires action in both chambers by December 23, 2011. If action is not taken or the president does not sign the legislation approved by the Congress, there will be no further increase in the debt ceiling.
The fact is, no other commission — not Simpson-Bowles, not the Gang of Six, not the Biden Group — had this kind of guarantee of an actual up or down vote in the House and Senate. Furthermore, never before has a request to increase the debt ceiling been conditioned on actual spending reductions. If we are going to reverse our economically disastrous debt trajectory, we need a new approach. In the absence of a real budget debate, the Budget Control Act of 2011 offers a clear path forward and real incentives to act.