Tag: budget blueprint

A Dishonest Budget, as Told in One Graph

Yesterday, President Barack Obama released his proposed budget for fiscal year 2012.  Many of my Cato colleagues have already discussed why the president should be embarrassed of this document.  Chris Preble writes that the president offers “faux cuts” to military spending.  Dan Mitchell says the president is “missing in action” on entitlement reform.  Chris Edwards writes that “the Obama administration has completely chickened out on spending reforms in its new budget.”

They were too kind.  This budget is thoroughly dishonest, too.

Back in 1997, Congress enacted automatic reductions in the price controls that Medicare uses to pay for physician services.  Congress has delayed those cuts year after year, and everyone now agrees they are politically infeasible.  We’re not talking about your the usual, Washington-DC definition of spending cuts here, which is just a reduction in spending growth.  If the accumulated cuts were to take effect in 2012, as provided by current law, Medicare payments to physicians would fall by some 25 percent, and lots of seniors would find their doctor no longer accepts their Medicare coverage.  The problem is, these cuts are still on the books and they grow larger every time Congress delays them.  But no one wants to come up with the money needed to pay for a permanent “doc fix.”

Enter President Obama’s FY2012 budget submission.  Rather than propose a permanent “doc fix,” the Obama administration proposes a temporary and dishonest one.  As shown by the blue bars in the below graph, the administration proposes to delay these cuts until 2014 at a cost of $54 billion.  As shown by the black line, the administration proposes to pay for this additional spending by reducing the rate of spending growth in other areas of Medicare by $62 billion over the next 10 years.  Note that only 6 percent of these Medicare “cuts” will occur in 2012 and 2013.  The other 94 percent of the “cuts” will come after the administration has spent the $54 billion it wants to spend.  Note also that the vast majority of the “cuts” would take effect after Barack Obama is no longer president.   Finally, the president offers no proposals to deal with the cuts in physician payments during the last eight years of the 10-year budget window (as shown by the purple bars).  But he’s more than happy to use those implausibly low current-law spending levels to make his proposed budget appear more responsible than it is.

It’s the same old story: dessert today, spinach tomorrow.  (Or, never.)

Both parties engage in such dishonesty all the time.  Those cuts in physician payments were scheduled to take effect in 2011.  To pay for delaying them until 2012, Congress and the president agreed on the ridiculous and dishonest strategy of trying to track down and recover excessive subsidies that the federal government will pay to people in ObamaCare’s health insurance “exchanges,” beginning in 2014.  (Call it the new “pay and chase.”)

OMB Director Lew on the New Budget

President Obama will release his budget blueprint for fiscal 2012 next week. If an op-ed penned by his budget director, Jacob Lew, in Sunday’s New York Times is any indication, the administration intends to continue fiddling while the government’s finances burn.

The title of the piece, “The Easy Cuts Are Behind Us,” is a real head-scratcher. Lew’s “easy cuts” are an apparent reference to the $20 billion in savings the president proposed in his previous budgets. Considering that the president proposed total spending of $3.8 trillion last year, $20 billion in gross cuts was an insignificant gesture to say the least. In reality, the Bush administration passed the spending baton to the Obama administration two years ago and it promptly sprinted off like Usain Bolt.

Lew says:

In a little over a week, President Obama will send Congress his budget for the 2012 fiscal year. The budget is not just a collection of numbers, but an expression of our values and aspirations.

Perhaps the current budgetary state of affairs is an expression of the administration’s values and aspirations. But while an unhealthy number of Americans have become accustomed to living at the expense of their neighbor via the government, which the budget does reflect, there is growing popular recognition that saddling future generations with back-breaking debt is morally bankrupt.

Lew says:

As the president said in his State of the Union address, now that the country is back from the brink of a potential economic collapse, our goal is to win the future by out-educating, out-building and out-innovating our rivals so that we can return to robust economic and job growth. But to make room for the investments we need to foster growth, we have to cut what we cannot afford. We have to reduce the burden placed on our economy by years of deficits and debt.

This zero-sum take on the global economy is ignorant. Economic growth in “rival” countries creates opportunities for economic growth in the United States and vice-versa. My trade colleagues can better cover this ground, but the idea that our government needs to export more debt in order to out-anything is preposterous. The U.S. already out-spends its “rivals” on education and what do we have to show for it?

If the administration is concerned with our economic competitiveness, it should be looking to restrain the federal government’s heavy-hand in the economy. The federal government alone now sucks up a quarter of the country’s economic output. More government “investments” for building fancy trains might provide Joe Biden with lots of ribbon-cutting photo-ops, but such gross misallocations of taxpayer resources are not a recipe for “robust economic and job growth.”

Lew says:

We cannot win the future, expand the economy and spur job creation if we are saddled with increasingly growing deficits. That is why the president’s budget is a comprehensive and responsible plan that will put us on a path toward fiscal sustainability in the next few years — a down payment toward tackling our challenges in the long term.

According to Lew, the administration plans to do this by freezing non-security discretionary spending for five years. But several paragraphs later he acknowledges that “Discretionary spending not related to security represents just a little more than one-tenth of the entire federal budget, so cutting solely in this area will never be enough to address our long-term fiscal challenges.”

Does Lew give even a hint as to how the administration plans to “address our long-term fiscal challenges”? Nope.

In the intervening paragraphs Lew does give us a taste of the “deeper cuts” that the president will propose next week. One cut would be $300 million, or 7.5 percent, in the Community Development Block Grant program, which funds critical federal concerns like funding facade renovations for a wine bar in Connecticut and expanding a brewery in Michigan.

The Community Service Block Grant program (change one word and, voilà, a new program) would be cut in half to save a whopping $350 million. Lew says this cut was not easy for the president because “These are the kinds of programs that President Obama worked with when he was a community organizer.”

The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative would get chopped by 25 percent, or $125 million, which Lew calls “another difficult cut.” If that’s a “difficult” cut, one can only wonder what Lew would call the cuts needed to actually “address our long-term fiscal challenges.”

After punting on the long-term fiscal challenges and pretending that the relatively insignificant cuts the administration will propose represent “tough choices,” Lew begins his wrap up by warning against cutting spending:

We must take care to avoid indiscriminate cuts in areas critical to long-term growth like education, innovation and infrastructure — cuts that would stifle the economy just as it begins to recover.

The country cannot afford business as usual. And it certainly can’t afford business as has been conducted by this administration. Unfortunately, while the exact details of the president’s latest budget proposal remain to be seen, Lew’s op-ed indicates that this tiger isn’t about to change his stripes.

Congressional Priorities and the FY2010 Budget Resolution

Yesterday the House and Senate passed a bloated $3.5 trillion budget blueprint for fiscal year 2010.  According to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), “What is important to us as a nation is reflected in this budget. It’s a very happy day for our country.”

Included in the blueprint is language that calls for an equal pay raise between military employees and civilian federal employees.  President Obama had originally proposed slightly higher pay for members of the armed services.  The exact pay raise for bureaucrats will be determined in the appropriations process, but it’s likely to be a hike of anywhere from 2.9% to 3.9%.  This would come on top of last year’s 3.9% raise.

Omitted from the blueprint was language included in the Senate version by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) that would have “required agency managers to report to Congress within 90 days of the bill’s passage on any programs that are ‘duplicative, inefficient or failing, with recommendations for eliminating and consolidating these programs.‘ “  A simple report to be issued by the agencies themselves. That’s it.  There would be no guarantee that anything would actually be cut or consolidated.

Is it really a happy day for our country when Congress passes a blueprint to add another $1 trillion plus to the skyrocketing national debt?  Is it really good for the struggling economy that the parasitic bureaucrats already living comfortably at the expense of the productive members of society are going to get another fat pay raise?  Is it really “important to us as a nation” to make sure federal agencies are not instructed to pick out the particularly woeful programs under their watch?

It may be a happy day for politicians and bureaucrats, but it’s another kick in the teeth for taxpayers.