As the deficit reduction super committee remains gridlocked and predictions of failure abound, Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions warned Thursday that if the super committee does squeak out a last minute deal, people should be on guard for gimmicks that wouldn’t really cut spending.
Sessions, who has pushed against spending gimmicks and proposed the Honest Budget Act to expose them, warned of a deal made in the wee hours of the night with little oversight.
“It’s less than a week until the deadline, and no language has been made public, and the American people should be able to make their voice heard before the committee votes. Because the truth is, once that vote happens, there’ll be no opportunity to change their product,” Sessions said.
“People will make many promises about what this deal will be about if it passes … hopefully they’ll reach an agreement that’s one that can be honestly defended and that we’ll all be happy to vote for,” he added.
“But what we’ve seen so far indicates that secret deals, while they remain secret, are promoted to be far better than they are when you begin to see what’s really in them. The devil will always be in the details,” Sessions said.
He pointed, for instance, to the budget plan proposed by President Barack Obama, which was advertised as not adding to the national debt, but, he said, would in fact double the debt over the next decase.
He picked out several gimmicks in particular for which congressmen should be on the look out.
For instance, he said, the super committee could set a cap on war spending that was less than the baseline set by the Congressional Budget Office, and in that way claim they were making spending cuts. But since it would be less than the CBO baseline, that money would never have been spent in the first place.
Another possible gimmick by which the super committee could claim money was saved, he said, would be a proposal of tax increases now, to be balanced by spending cuts in future years.
“The pattern around here is, that once a tax increase is passed, it’s there,” Sessions said. “But a promise of a spending cut in the future very often does not become a reality.”
He warned that the super committee could direct standing committees to make cuts in future years, for instance, reduce entitlement spending or find a way to raise revenue.
“These committees have not followed through on that in the past,” Sessions warned, “and the super committee’s directions to them, we have to know, are not likely to occur based on history around here.”
At times, Sessions cautioned, cuts to programs have been proposed that are “unrealistic” because they do not come along with the reform necessary to actually cut costs for that program. For instance, cuts to health care providers’ reimbursements are supposed to made each year, but that fact is consistently ignored, Sessions said.
Another possible gimmick would be to claim spending cuts based on assumptions that the CBO baseline will change in a way that is “unrealistic,” for instance, by being “overly optimistic” about future economic growth.
“More and more, we’re hearing that coming out of this recession is going to be a long, tough, slow slog,” Sessions said. To claim cuts based on an alternative vision, Sessions said, would be “phony accounting.”
Lastly, he warned of calling savings on interest, as a result of a debt lessened by tax increases, a spending cut, as no money would actually be saved — money would still be paid out, just less than the year before.