House Republicans approve first of several budget reform bills

The House on Thursday evening approved the first of up to 10 budget reform bills House Republicans hope to consider on the floor in the coming weeks.

By a 242-179 vote, members approved H.R. 3582, the Pro-Growth Budgeting Act. The legislation enjoyed little in the way of bipartisan support, as it garnered only four Democratic votes.

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The bill requires the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to provide economic analyses of bills with major budgetary impacts — those that have an effect of 0.25 percent of GDP or more, or about $38 billion last year. The analysis would describe the economic impact of the bill, including on GDP, business investment, employment and other economic variables.

Republicans cast the bill as way that Congress can get more information about how the bills they pass would affect these variables. But Democrats spent the day arguing that Republicans were likely to use these analyses as a way to introduce dynamic scoring into the budget process — for example, by pointing to analyses that say tax cuts would lead to an economic boost and saying this boost lowers the cost of the tax cuts to the federal government.

"This bill is designed to make it easier to pass large tax cuts without having to find real savings in our current budget," Rep. David Price (D-NC) said. "It relies on the thoroughly discredited notion that tax cuts do not add to the deficit, that they magically pay for themselves."

Other Democrats argued that if this step is taken, the CBO should also provide analyses that tout the benefits of federal spending that helps the economy.

"Investments like early childhood education," Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) suggested. "Why don't we do dynamic scoring on that? Healthcare. What about scoring the impact of what providing healthcare would do in terms of decreasing the costs to our companies?"

Republicans acknowledged that the bill would give members a sense of how CBO sees major bills affecting the economy, but said this would be a supplement to CBO's "static" analysis, and would not replace CBO's current practices.

"Economists from across the political spectrum agree that major legislation considered by Congress has significant effects on economic growth, and we ought to be looking at that consequence," Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) said.

House Republicans have proposed several other budget reform bills, including one that they will debate Thursday evening — H.R. 3578, the Baseline Reform Act. That bill would eliminate the assumption that spending on discretionary items will increase with the rate of inflation each year, an assumption that Republicans said fosters budget expansion.

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