long-term cost (or savings) effects of a proposal when it is under consideration. They also have to be able to object to long-term costs they view as unwarranted through a point of order or other procedural measure. Current rules for consideration of proposed mandatory spending and tax policy changes generally limit estimates to a 10-year period, even if the proposed change has substantial implications for the budget’s long-term outlook. Yet a different rule is well within recent policy tradition: the Senate has already incorporated such a point of order in its rules, requiring policies to be deficit neutral in each decade over the next 40 years. Both the Senate and House have weak rules that attempt to restrain actions that would worsen the Social Security deficit. CBO does not currently provide quantitative estimates of costs beyond 10 years, but it does provide a qualitative judgment about whether proposals would increase or decrease the deficit over the longer term (Elmendorf, 2009).
The 1990 PAYGO requirement that mandatory spending and revenue proposals not increase future deficits was enforced not only by the rules of the House and Senate, but also by a back-up requirement that, if congressional action increased net spending over a 5- or 10-year period, covered entitlement programs would be cut to the extent needed to eliminate the increase. It may be useful to consider a comparable procedure for longer-term costs as well. Although establishing the precise order of magnitude for long-term costs may be difficult, it may be possible to create formulaic reductions in spending or increases in revenues if proposed new legislation would increase the deficit beyond the 10-year period on the basis of CBO’s qualitative assessment. Like the 1990 act, a specified formula could provide greater incentives to observe long-term fiscal neutrality in considering new legislation.
Given the serious threat posed by long-term imbalances in the nation’s projected spending and revenues, simply waiting for a crisis to force leaders to deal with the fiscal challenge would be irresponsible. Rather, the committee concludes that reforms to the budget process are needed now to help hold leaders accountable and to support responsible action. Just as in the battle to curb cigarette smoking, information, public framing, expert studies, and political entrepreneurs will all be important in elevating the priority devoted to meeting the nation’s fiscal challenge. The breadth and scope of the changes required will call for both budget process reforms to galvanize the attention of political leaders and public engagement strategies that mobilize the attention of broader publics at the grassroots level.
Nothing can force leaders to take on this challenge absent support from the public. However, once hard decisions have been made, enhanced