WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine), Ranking Member of the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, and Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama), Ranking Member of the Senate Budget Committee, today announced the introduction of the Honest Budget Act, a nine-plank legislative package that targets Washington’s most dishonest budget gimmicks and accounting tricks:
In a joint statement, Sens. Snowe and Sessions said:
“Washington relies on an astonishing array of dishonest budget gimmicks to enable and conceal countless billions in federal deficit spending. That is why we have introduced the Honest Budget Act: to strip away many of the most egregious budget gimmicks in Washington, to make it harder to spend money we don’t have, and to confront the culture of fiscal manipulation that is bleeding our country of future prosperity. No more gimmicks, tricks, or empty promises. Americans deserve honesty, transparency, and accountability. The Senate must adopt this overdue measure and we are confident it can receive bipartisan support. That is what we will fight to achieve. It is time for Congress to rebuild the trust it has so steadily eroded.”
Honest Budget Act—Highlighted Provisions
No More Gimmicks, Tricks, Or Empty Promises. America Deserves An Honest Budget.
No Budget, No Appropriations: For two consecutive years, the Democrat Senate has failed to adopt a budget. The Honest Budget Act sets in place a new sixty vote point-of-order threshold for trying to move a spending bill unless both houses of Congress have adopted a binding budget resolution.
“Emergency” Spending: Congress has added billions to the deficit by labeling routine expenditures as emergency spending, allowing lawmakers to bypass budgetary rules. For example, Congress included $210 million in “emergency” spending for the 2010 Census. Under current Senate procedure, the emergency designation is simply written into the bill text by a single Senator. The Honest Budget Act puts the burden on a supermajority of the Senate to add it.
Phony Rescissions: Congress frequently rescinds money that was never going to be spent in the first place and then uses those “savings” to pay for increased spending elsewhere. For instance, if $10 million has been appropriated to build a highway that turns out to cost only $8 million to complete, Congress can rescind the $2 million difference (that never left the Treasury), and use it to increase spending by $2 million for an unrelated project. Thus, Congress can claim that a bill that spends $2 million more in taxpayer dollars has no impact on the debt. The Honest Budget Act ends this gimmick by prohibiting rescissions from being counted as spending cuts unless they produce actual cash savings over the budget window.
The Fake Federal Pay Freeze: In November 2010, the president’s promise to institute a “two-year pay freeze for all civilian federal workers.” But seventy percent of civilian federal workers have continued to receive 2–3 percent pay increases. The Honest Budget Act, in keeping with the president’s pledge, would simply make the federal pay freeze real.
Timing Shifts: Bill drafters use timing shifts to get around the budget rules that prohibit legislation from increasing the deficit in certain enforcement periods. By shifting expenditures or tax due dates from one period to another, legislation can appear to be deficit neutral in all the enforceable time periods when it really isn’t. Congress has used timing shifts to claim $42 billion in bogus offsets since 2009. The Honest Budget Act would disallow these phony offsets from being used.
ChiMPS (Changes in Mandatory Programs): Frequently, language in appropriation bills will temporarily reduce spending in certain mandatory programs, use the “savings” to pay for current spending increases elsewhere, and then restore the mandatory spending in the following year, resulting in zero net savings over the budget window. The Honest Budget Act would prevent changes in mandatory spending programs from being used as phony budgetary savings in appropriation bills.