Honest Budget Act
No More Gimmicks, Tricks, Or Empty Promises
America Deserves An Honest Budget
Every year, Washington relies on a series of budget gimmicks and accounting tricks to conceal or enable deficit spending. With a gross debt of more than $16 trillion—larger than our entire economy—Washington must abandon these fiscal shell games and commit to honest budget practices.
That's why Ranking Member Sessions, together with Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine, has introduced the Honest Budget Act (HBA). This nine-part legislative package will put an end to some of Washington's most blatant and dishonest budget gimmicks. Since 2005 alone, the gimmicks addressed in the bill have enabled more than $350 billion in deficit spending while fostering a wider culture of fiscal irresponsibility. The Honest Budget Act is a crucial step towards making Washington more responsible—and more accountable—with how it spends taxpayer dollars.
Below, you will find information about the legislation, including full legislative text, summaries, and descriptions of the bill's provisions.
- HBA-Targeted Gimmicks
Spending Money Without A Budget
For two consecutive years, the Democrat Senate has failed to adopt a budget. The Honest Budget Act sets in place a new sixty vote point-of-order threshold for trying to move a spending bill unless both houses of Congress have adopted a binding budget resolution.
Congress has added billions to the deficit by labeling routine expenditures as emergency spending, allowing lawmakers to bypass budgetary rules. For example, Congress included $210 million in “emergency” spending for the 2010 Census. Under current Senate procedure, the emergency designation is simply written into the bill text by a single Senator. The Honest Budget Act puts the burden on a supermajority of the Senate to add it.
Congress frequently rescinds money that was never going to be spent in the first place and then uses those “savings” to pay for increased spending elsewhere. For instance, if $10 million has been appropriated to build a highway that turns out to cost only $8 million to complete, Congress can rescind the $2 million difference (that never left the Treasury), and use it to increase spending by $2 million for an unrelated project. Thus, Congress can claim that a bill that spends $2 million more in taxpayer dollars has no impact on the debt. The Honest Budget Act ends this gimmick by prohibiting rescissions from being counted as spending cuts unless they produce actual cash savings over the budget window.
The Fake Federal Pay Freeze
In November 2010, the president promised to institute a “two-year pay freeze for all civilian federal workers.” But seventy percent of civilian federal workers have continued to receive 2–3 percent pay increases. The Honest Budget Act, in keeping with the president’s pledge, would simply make the federal pay freeze real.
Bill drafters use timing shifts to get around the budget rules that prohibit legislation from increasing the deficit in certain enforcement periods. By shifting expenditures or tax due dates from one period to another, legislation can appear to be deficit neutral in all the enforceable time periods when it really isn’t. Congress has used timing shifts to claim $42 billion in bogus offsets since 2009. The Honest Budget Act would disallow these phony offsets from being used.
ChiMPS (Changes in Mandatory Programs)return to top
Frequently, language in appropriation bills will temporarily reduce spending in certain mandatory programs, use the “savings” to pay for current spending increases elsewhere, and then restore the mandatory spending in the following year, resulting in zero net savings over the budget window. The Honest Budget Act would prevent changes in mandatory spending programs from being used as phony budgetary savings in appropriation bills.
- Praise For The HBA
"A number of fiscally responsible reforms... sensible reforms that would eliminate a number of frequently used gimmicks... should be seriously considered by Congress." - Robert L. Bixby, Executive Director
“A positive and necessary step... in reining in government spending and reforming federal budgeting… The bill will also stop the budget gimmickry that has allowed lawmakers to claim savings where none exist.” - Grover Norquist, President, and Mattie Corrao, Executive Director
"Would help bring more transparency, accountability, and honesty to the budget process... would go far to improve the budget's transparency and eliminate abusive or misleading practices." - Steve Redburn, Project Director
“A serious attempt to wade into the budget process to address the fundamental flaws that have allowed Congress to avoid the difficult trade-offs that are the essence of governing in a fiscally constrained environment... Senator Sessions’s proposal would force Congress into the business of budgeting and prioritizing, without the usual gimmicks considered tricks of the budget trade.” - Douglas Holtz-Eakin, President, and Gordon Gray, Director of Fiscal Policy
"Common sense proposals... The reforms in your bill will help bring more transparency, accountability, and honesty to the budget process... a positive step in countering the cynicism regarding the budget process." - Maya MacGuineas, President
“Cracking down on these deceptive accounting practices would go a long way toward restoring fiscal sanity to the federal budget process… Would help to tamp down some of these [budget] shenanigans... Sessions has been clamoring all year for an open and honest budget process... an opportunity to act responsibly to curtail Washington’s destructive spending spree.”
"Would close accounting loopholes and end the budget subterfuge employed by lawmakers... Many current budget practices are dishonest, deceitful and unacceptable to taxpayers. The Honest Budget Act of 2011 will force Congress to adhere to fair and transparent budgeting and accounting procedures..." - Thomas A. Schatz, President
"Perhaps restoring some honesty to budget rules would rescue Congress from its record-low approval ratings and rehabilitate its reputation with the public." - Diana Furchtgott-Roth, Senior Fellowreturn to top
- List Of Cosponsors
- Sen. Olympia Snowe (ME)
- Sen. Lamar Alexander (TN)
- Sen. Kelly Ayotte (NH)
- Sen. John Barrasso (WY)
- Sen. John Boozman (AR)
- Sen. Scott Brown (MA)
- Sen. Richard Burr (NC)
- Sen. Saxby Chambliss (GA)
- Sen. Dan Coats (IN)
- Sen. Bob Corker (TN)
- Sen. John Cornyn (TX)
- Sen. Mike Crapo (ID)
- Sen. Michael Enzi (WY)
- Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson (TX)
- Sen. Johnny Isakson (GA)
- Sen. Mike Johanns (NE)
- Sen. Ron Johnson (WI)
- Sen. Mike Lee (UT)
- Sen. John McCain (AZ)
- Sen. Rand Paul (KY)
- Sen. Rob Portman (OH)