March 11, 2015 | Issue Brief on Budget and Spending
The new 114th Congress has a responsibility to address growing spending and debt. This is especially true following the post-election pledge made by House Speaker John Boehner (R–OH) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R–KY) to address “a national debt that has Americans stealing from their children and grandchildren, robbing them of benefits that they will never see and leaving them with burdens that will be nearly impossible to repay.” In acting on its pledge, Congress should adopt a concurrent budget resolution that reveals to the American people just how Congress intends to put the budget on a path to balance.
The budget resolution is a key tool in Congress’s arsenal. Congress sets spending and revenue targets in the budget resolution, which guide congressional committees in proposing legislation. The budget committees can enforce Congress’s targets by blocking legislation that would exceed them with “points of order.” Unlike ordinary bills, a concurrent budget resolution can go into effect without the President’s signature. It only requires a majority vote to pass, including in the Senate, where it is filibuster-proof. Congress should fully leverage this opportunity to reveal its plan to address growing spending and debt next year, and in the long run.
The budget resolution enables Congress to use another important tool: reconciliation. Reconciliation directives instruct committees to devise legislation by a specific date that meets Congress’s spending and tax targets. Like the budget resolution, a reconciliation bill is filibuster-proof in the Senate, meaning it requires only a majority vote to pass. But unlike a budget resolution, a reconciliation bill can enact legislation through an expedited voting process, assuming the President signs its components into law. Congress should target full Obamacare repeal using reconciliation, especially since most of Obamacare was enacted using reconciliation in 2010.
The national debt exceeds $18 trillion and, absent spending reforms, will continue to grow. As a share of the economy, the national debt already exceeds the nation’s gross domestic product, with the part that is borrowed in credit markets making up nearly three-quarters of this debt.
Massive and growing debt hinders economic growth and opportunity by discouraging investment and threatening higher future taxes to pay interest on the debt. Congress should put the budget on a path to balance with health care, retirement, and welfare reforms, while prioritizing national defense in the budget, cutting inappropriate and wasteful domestic spending, and reforming America’s tax code to unleash economic growth.
—Romina Boccia is Grover M. Hermann Fellow in Federal Budgetary Affairs in the Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies, of the Institute for Economic Freedom and Opportunity, at The Heritage Foundation. The following Heritage Foundation analysts contributed to this Issue Brief: Diem Salmon (defense), Alyene Senger (health care), Curtis Dubay (taxes), and Rachel Sheffield (welfare).
 John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, “Now We Can Get Congress Going,” The Wall Street Journal, November 5, 2014, http://www.speaker.gov/op-ed/boehnermcconnell-op-ed-now-we-can-get-congress-going (accessed March 5, 2015).
 Department of Defense, “Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense,” January 2012, http://www.defense.gov/news/Defense_Strategic_Guidance.pdf (accessed March 5, 2015).
 Diem Nguyen Salmon, “A Proposal for the FY 2016 Defense Budget,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 2989, January 30, 2015, http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2015/01/a-proposal-for-the-fy-2016-defense-budget.
 Romina Boccia, “A Path to Balance in Five Steps: What to Look for in the Ryan Budget,” The Daily Signal, March 31, 2014, http://dailysignal.com/2014/03/31/path-balance-five-steps-look-ryan-budget.
 Congressional Budget Office (CBO), “Insurance Coverage Provisions of the Affordable Care Act—CBO’s January 2015 Baseline,” Table B-1, https://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/cbofiles/attachments/43900-2015-01-ACAtables.pdf (accessed February 20, 2015).
 Joint Committee on Taxation, “Estimated Revenue Effects of a Proposal to Repeal Certain Tax Provisions Contained in the ‘Affordable Care Act’ (“ACA”),” June 15, 2012, and Congressional Budget Office, “Table 2: CBO’s May 2013 Estimate of the Budgetary Effects of the Insurance Coverage Provisions Contained in the Affordable Care Act,” https://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/cbofiles/attachments/43900-2013-05-ACA.pdf (accessed February 20, 2015). The total amount of tax revenue collected from the individual mandate, employer mandate, and 40 percent excise tax on high-cost health plans comes from the CBO’s May 2013 estimate. For all other taxes, the amount of tax revenue totaled comes from the Joint Committee on Taxation’s June 2012 estimation.
 Edmund F. Haislmaier et al., “A Fresh Start for Health Care Reform,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 2970, October 30, 2014, http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2014/10/a-fresh-start-for-health-care-reform.
 Nina Owcharenko, “Medicaid Reform: More than a Block Grant Is Needed,” Heritage Foundation Issue Brief No. 3590, http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2012/05/three-steps-to-medicaid-reform.
 For an overview of Heritage’s Medicare reform proposal, see Robert E. Moffit, “The Second Stage of Medicare Reform: Moving to a Premium Support Program,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 2626, November 28, 2011, http://report.heritage.org/bg2626.
 Robert E. Moffit, “The First Stage of Medicare Reform: Fixing the Current Program,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 2611, October 17, 2011, http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2011/10/the-first-stage-of-medicare-reform-fixing-the-current-program.
 Rachel Greszler and Romina Boccia, “Social Security Trustees Report: Unfunded Liability Increased $1.1 Trillion and Projected Insolvency in 2033,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 2936, August 4, 2014, http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2014/08/social-security-trustees-report-unfunded-liability-increased-11-trillion-and-projected-insolvency-in-2033.
 Romina Boccia, “What Is Social Security Disability Insurance? An SSDI Primer,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 2994, February 19, 2015, http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2015/02/what-is-social-security-disability-insurance-an-ssdi-primer.
 Curtis S. Dubay, “How Tax Reform Would Help American Families,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 2963, October 20, 2014, http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2014/10/how-tax-reform-would-help-american-families.
 Robert Rector and Rachel Sheffield, “The War on Poverty After 50 Years,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 2955, September 15, 2014, http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2014/09/the-war-on-poverty-after-50-years.
 The Heritage Foundation, “No. 90: Cap Total Means-Tested Welfare Spending,” in The Budget Book: 106 Ways to Reduce the Size & Scope of Government, 2015, http://budgetbook.heritage.org/income-security/cap-total-means-tested-welfare-spending/.
 Romina Boccia, “Federal Spending by the Numbers, 2014,” Heritage Foundation Special Report No. 162, December 8, 2014, http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2014/12/federal-spending-by-the-numbers-2014.