Lawmaker urges team effort to set spending plan

WASHINGTON -- Republicans and Democrats must reach an agreement on federal spending caps and then work together on crafting a responsible spending plan for fiscal 2020, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told the House Budget Committee on Wednesday.

Passing all 12 appropriations bills on time, as required by law, will be a priority, he said.

"I have reserved all of June to pass every appropriations bill by June 30. I've told all of the authorizing committees we're going to pass appropriations bills. I'm not going to put any other bill [forward] if it undermines that objective," he said.

June 30 is the deadline established by the Congressional Budget Act of 1974, but over the past 45 years, lawmakers have rarely complied with that timeline.

Hoyer wants that to change.

"There's no reason we can't do it except for political gamesmanship and procrastination," he said.

Fiscal 2020 begins Oct. 1. If the spending bills are still in limbo when that date arrives, then lawmakers can pass a continuing resolution -- a temporary fix to keep the government funded, or they can do nothing, resulting in another government shutdown.

Neither option is good, Hoyer said.

Continuing resolutions "are an evidence of failure," he said. It's a failure he views as preventable.

"If done quickly, the new [Budget Control Act] caps deal can accelerate the work of passing appropriations bills on time," he said. "No more shutdowns, missed paychecks, or endless continuing resolutions leading to economic uncertainty for our markets and financial insecurity for our people."

Without an agreement, automatic spending cuts -- called "sequesters" -- are due to kick in that neither party wants, Hoyer said.

"We're going to be in a position where we have gridlock again and the possibility of either sequester taking place of shutting down the government. Or both," he added.

Hoyer also encouraged both parties to work together to address the national debt, which surpassed $22 trillion last month.

In fiscal 2019, the federal government is expected to spend $4.4 trillion while collecting just $3.5 trillion. The Congressional Budget Office foresees a deficit for the year of $897 billion.

Hoyer said he's troubled by the mounting debt.

"Those of you who have heard me testify here in the past know that I have consistently advocated for making the difficult decisions necessary not only to stop adding to the deficit, but to reverse the long-term fiscal trends that threaten our future economic prosperity," he said.

U.S. Rep. Bill Flores, R-Texas, noted that spending on mandatory programs -- such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid -- now dwarfs discretionary spending.

"If we both agree that debt and deficits are bad, what should we do in terms of looking at that section of the budget that has shown the greatest growth?" he asked.

"Hold hands," Hoyer replied. "If you do not hold hands, neither party will do it because they're tough decisions that have to be made. ... The reason [former House Speaker] Tip O'Neill and [former President] Ronald Reagan were able to do something, which funded Social Security and made it stable for a lot of years was because they held hands. They did it together and they said, 'This has got to be done.'"

Asked whether congressional Democrats are willing to hold hands with Republicans to confront the nation's spending problems, Hoyer said, "You know, I don't know the answer to that question, honestly."

But it's necessary, he said.

Congress can't get a handle on the nation's problems "unless we work together," he said.

Afterward, U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., said he shared Hoyer's view.

"He speaks the truth in terms of what it's going to take to get to a fiscal situation that both serves the interests of the country and addresses the long-term threat of deficits and debt," said Womack, the committee's top Republican and the former mayor of Rogers. "We've got to hold hands. It's got to be bipartisan."

The solutions won't please those on the far left or the far right of the political spectrum, he said. "Both sides are going to have to get away from their fringes more [and] be more in the middle on some of these tough issues because the failure to do that means that you just kick the can down the road," he said.

Metro on 03/07/2019