The national debt recently hit a record-breaking $13 trillion — and it is growing by a staggering $1 million every 30 seconds.
Clearly, the reasons for the deficit are many — and so are the solutions. But we in Congress must accept our share of the blame — even though many increases in the deficit came not because of bad intentions but because of bad information.
The Congressional Budget Office employs talented economists whose job it is to study every aspect of every bill and predict how much each will cost — or how much each will save — years into the future.
They are good, but they are not infallible soothsayers. Economic predictions that are off just a little in a year can become wildly inaccurate over the course of decades.
Examples of that abound:
· In 1965, as Congress considered legislation to establish the Medicare program, the House Ways and Means Committee estimated the hospital insurance part of the program would cost $9 billion annually in 1990. Actual cost in 1990: $67 billion.
· In 1989, Congress considered adding a catastrophic coverage benefit to Medicare to take effect in 1990. The CBO cost estimate was $5.7 billion. One year later, the estimate was raised to $11.8 billion and Congress responded by repealing the program before it took effect.
· In 2008, CBO estimated the 2002 and 2008 farm bills combined would generate federal budget deficits of $49.8 billion. The actual cost later was reported at $87.9 billion.
There also are errors that are wrong in the other direction.
· CBO projected Medicare’s hospital payment system would save $10 billion over 10 years. Actual savings: $21 billion.
· In 2003, CBO projected that a new Medicare drug benefit would cost $518 billion. The price tag, three years later: $382 billion.
Our Truth in Spending Act won’t make predictions more accurate. But it will force Congress to take action when predictions are inaccurate.
The legislation would require the Office of Management and Budget to check cost estimates for legislation five and 10 years after laws take effect to determine the accuracy of the predictions.
When costs are higher than or savings lower than predicted, the Truth in Spending Act creates a fast-track process to reduce excess costs through legislation.
This legislation also would cover laws already passed. Laws enacted from 2005 to the present also would be included.
We can get a handle on the federal deficit by putting teeth into the cost estimates that legislation is built upon.
Good information leads to good legislation. Our Truth in Spending Act is a contract with the American people that will force Congress to live within budgetary estimates for legislation.