Budget Thoughts From Steny Hoyer

by: Donald Marron

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer is building a reputation as one of our most thoughtful leaders when it comes to budget matters. Thus I recommend this speech on fiscal responsibility he gave at the Brookings Institution yesterday .

Highlights include his criticism of “selfish” budget choices:

[W]hen it comes to budgeting, what is politically easy is often fiscally deadly. It is easier to pay for tax cuts with borrowed money than with lower spending; easier to hide the true costs of war than to lay those costs before the people; easier to promise special cost-of-living adjustments than explain why an increase is not justified under the formula in law; easier to promise 95% of Americans that we won’t consider raising their taxes than to ask all Americans to contribute for the common good. Those kinds of easy choices are so often selfish choices—because they leave the chore of cleaning up to someone else. Easy choices may be popular—but the popularity is bought on credit.

And his discussion of budget options:

On the side of entitlement spending, an agreement might recognize that Americans are living longer lives and raise the retirement age over a period of years, or even peg the retirement age to lifespan. Another option is to make Social Security and Medicare benefits more progressive, while strengthening the safety net for low-income Americans. That could preserve those programs as a central part of our social compact, while protecting their ability to help those of us in the greatest need.

On the side of revenues, President Obama was correct in refusing to take any options off of the commission’s table. No one likes raising revenue, and understandably so. But if you’re going to buy, you need to pay. … If need be, I am hopeful that both parties will agree to look at revenues as part of the solution—not as a gateway to higher spending, but as part of a compromise that cuts spending and balances the budget.

I don’t agree with everything Leader Hoyer has to say in his speech (e.g. I am much more concerned about the budget impacts of the pending health bills, and I view the recent PAYGO bill less favorably because of its many exceptions). But I appreciate how seriously he takes these issues.

P.S. Bruce Bartlett also recommends the speech.