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Bipartisan group wants deficits addressed in next virus aid bill

House lawmakers’ letter doesn't call for specific spending cuts or tax increases, wants ‘rescue committee’ named to tackle rising debt

Passing another COVID-19 relief package may require easing the concerns of deficit hawks.

A bipartisan group of 60 House members, evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, wrote to their leaders Monday asking them to include measures to begin curbing the nation’s mounting red ink.

The four aid bills enacted since the pandemic began in March opened the federal spigot to the tune of around $3 trillion in new borrowing, with more to come likely this summer.

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“As the crisis recedes and our nation recovers, we cannot ignore the pressing issue of the national debt, which could do irreparable damage to our country,” the House members wrote in their letter, led by Reps. Scott Peters, D-Calif., and Jodey C. Arrington, R-Texas. “We, therefore, respectfully request that further pandemic-response legislation include provisions for future budget reforms to ensure we confront these issues when the economy is strong enough.”

The letter served as the latest sign that fiscal concerns are at least beginning to weigh on some lawmakers, who have now spent three months scrambling to respond to a cratering economy amid the pandemic. Senate Republicans had already begun voicing concerns last month about not rushing into a new round of aid, partly because of mounting debt.

The debt held by the public is now expected to rival the size of the entire U.S. economy by the end of this fiscal year and surpass the World War II-era record by the end of next year, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

“It’s heartening to see dozens of members from both parties recognize the threat of our rising national debt and make clear their intention to tackle this challenge once the time is right,” Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget President, said in a prepared statement. “It is a risk that the American people take seriously.”

But the lawmakers, in their letter to House leaders, advocated for only a few small steps toward a future course change. They stopped well short of seeking any budget cuts or tax increases to begin closing widening deficits.

Instead, they called for the Government Accountability Office to issue an annual report detailing the government’s fiscal health. They also endorsed legislation introduced last year that would create “rescue committees” to recommend fixes for Social Security, Medicare and other trust funds that are projected to become insolvent.

And they called for adopting goals for managing the debt, such as setting a limit based on its share of the economy. Such a move, they said, “would reduce debt-limit brinkmanship as long as the budget remains on a responsible path.”

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