Tag: budget resolution

No Budget in 1,000 Days? No Budget Ever!

Around the time of President Obama’s State of the Union speech two weeks ago, Republicans and their allies came out arguing that the Democratic Senate hadn’t produced a budget in 1,000 days. Senate Budget Committee chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND) disputes the charge.

Is it true? The new budget season started Monday, so it’s a great time to examine that question.

Budget season really did start Monday. The Congressional Budget Act has a timetable in it (at section 300) that says the president submits his budget on or before the first Monday in February. We’re underway!

But I hope you weren’t holding your breath waiting to get a glimpse of the president’s budget. The White House has kicked back its release by a week—an unfortunate symbol of how both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue flout budget processes in ways large and small.

Now to the question: When was the last Senate budget?

Let’s start with a preliminary question: What is a “budget”?

The Congressional Budget Act defines it with reference to the document it appears in, known as a “concurrent budget resolution.” That definition is gobbledegook:

On or before April 15 of each year, the Congress shall complete action on a concurrent resolution of the budget for the fiscal year beginning on October 1 of such year. The concurrent resolution shall set forth appropriate levels for the fiscal year beginning on October 1 of such year and for at least each of the 4 ensuing fiscal years for the following—
(1) totals of new budget authority and outlays;
(2) total Federal revenues and the amount, if any, by which the aggregate level of Federal revenues should be increased or decreased by bills and resolutions to be reported by the appropriate committees;
(3) the surplus or deficit in the budget;
(4) new budget authority and outlays for each major functional category, based on allocations of the total levels set forth pursuant to paragraph (1);
(5) the public debt;
(6) for purposes of Senate enforcement under this title, outlays of the old-age, survivors, and disability insurance program established under title II of the Social Security Act for the fiscal year of the resolution
and for each of the 4 succeeding fiscal years; and
(7) for purposes of Senate enforcement under this title, revenues of the old-age, survivors, and disability insurance program established under title II of the Social Security Act (and the related provisions of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986) for the fiscal year of the resolution and for each of the 4 succeeding fiscal years.

Take a look at the last budget the Senate passed, though, and you can see these things—not that it’s a clear, readable description of what the future holds for government activity.

Now, Senator Conrad objects to the charge that he hasn’t produced a budget, saying that the Budget Control Act, which passed just last August, is a budget. It’s “more extensive,” setting the budget for the current year and the next one; it’s not just a resolution, but a law; and it has caps on discretionary spending going forward ten years.

Looking at the text of the bill, a government-budget novice like myself can’t see this. It doesn’t look like other congressional budgets, and it doesn’t fit with the definition in the Congressional Budget Act.

But why do we have to accept the government’s definition of what a budget is? It’s our government, and we get to decide when we’re seeing a budget.

I went to a handy resource, called a “dictionary,” to look up the word “budget.” The first two definitions are helpful:

1. an estimate, often itemized, of expected income and expense for a given period in the future.
2. a plan of operations based on such an estimate.

Now we have something we can use! And it can help us sort out what’s going on in federal ‘budgeting.’

The president’s budget, laying out not only gross spending numbers but the agencies and bureaus where the money will be spent, is a budget, under the more extensive, second definition.

What the House and Senate do, when they do their “budgeting,” is put out gross numbers and then some detail based on functional categories like amounts to be spent on “national defense” and “community and regional development” and stuff. That … almost meets the first definition, but it certainly isn’t itemized. Congress doesn’t actually do budgets.

My conclusion—as a human being and not a budget wonk—is that the Senate has not produced a budget in more than 1,000 days. I also conclude that the Congress doesn’t really produce budgets ever.

I investigate all this because of my work on transparency. If there is going to be a transparent federal budget and transparent spending processes, they have to have some relationship to what the public expects to see and some consistency among them (such as between the president’s budget and Congress’s).

If the political charge sticks—that the Senate has failed to budget—so be it. But the problem goes deeper. Congress basically doesn’t budget. It is owned by the complexity of the federal government and incapable of budgeting in a meaningful way. Congress just spends money in the appropriations process—which it flouts just as often as its so-called “budgeting.”

Federal Spending: Ryan vs. Obama

House Budget Committee Chairman, Paul Ryan, introduced his budget resolution for fiscal 2012 and beyond today entitled “The Path to Prosperity.” The plan would cut some spending programs, reduce top income tax rates, and reform Medicare and Medicaid. The following two charts compare spending levels under Chairman Ryan’s plan and President Obama’s recent budget (as scored by the Congressional Budget Office).

Figure 1 shows that spending rises more slowly over the next decade under Ryan’s plan than Obama’s plan. But spending rises substantially under both plans—between 2012 and 2021, spending rises 34 percent under Ryan and 55 percent under Obama.

Figure 2 compares Ryan’s and Obama’s proposed spending levels at the end of the 10-year budget window in 2021. The figure indicates where Ryan finds his budget savings. Going from the largest spending category to the smallest:

  • Ryan doesn’t provide specific Social Security cuts, instead proposing a budget mechanism to force Congress to take action on the program. It is disappointing that his plan doesn’t include common sense reforms such raising the retirement age.
  • Ryan finds modest Medicare savings in the short term, but the big savings occur beyond 10 years when his “premium support” reform is fully implemented. I would rather see Ryan’s Medicare reforms kick in sooner, which after all are designed to improve quality and efficiency in the health care system.
  • Ryan adopts Obama’s proposed defense (security) savings, but larger cuts are called for. After all, defense spending has doubled over the last decade, even excluding the costs of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • Ryan includes modest cuts to nonsecurity discretionary spending. Larger cuts are needed, including termination of entire agencies. See DownsizingGovernment.org.
  • Ryan makes substantial cuts to other entitlements, such as farm subsidies. Bravo!
  • Ryan would turn Medicaid and food stamps into block grants. That is an excellent direction for reform, and it would allow Congress to steadily reduce spending and ultimately devolve these programs to the states.
  • Ryan would repeal the costly 2010 health care law. Bravo!

To summarize, Ryan’s budget plan would make crucial reforms to federal health care programs, and it would limit the size of the federal government over the long term. However, his plan would be improved by adopting more cuts and eliminations of agencies in short term, such as those proposed by Senator Rand Paul.

Hurrah for ‘Draconian’ Education Cuts!

Over at the Daily Kos they’re getting ready to demonize. Some congressional Republicans opposed language in the continuing budget resolution passed yesterday that would fill a shortfall in Pell Grant funding and keep individual grants at their current sizes. By not filling the shortfall, individual grants would get smaller, something that Kos contributor Jed Lewison characterizes as “draconian.” He also suggests that Republican concerns foreshadow mean things to come in next year’s Congress.

Oh please, let this be true!

For far too long, almost anything related to education has seen pretty regular, sizeable funding increases due largely to the  simplistic – and easily demagogued – notion that spending more money on education must be good. Anyone opposing such increases has generally been attacked as a fool or heartless idealogue. But here’s the thing: All this spending has produced little if any discernable good! In higher ed, it has mainly encouraged more and more people to pursue degrees that they either don’t need, can’t handle, or that don’t signify much learning, all while enabling colleges to raise their prices to capture the aid increases! In other words, all the magical thinking about education spending notwithstanding, the evidence strongly suggests that more spending ultimately does little educational good while bleeding taxpayers dry and expanding our utterly unsustainable debt.

So let’s get those “draconian” cuts going, and maybe even have an honest discussion of what really happens when government spends on “education.”

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.