October 22, 2014

President's Campaign-Year Budget Plan Is Unlikely to Foster Progress on the Nation's Key Fiscal Challenges

WASHINGTON -- The Concord Coalition expressed disappointment today that President Obama’s proposed 2015 budget shifts the administration’s focus away from the credible framework he offered last year for comprehensive, bipartisan fiscal reform.

“While there are some positive elements in the President’s plan this year, overall it seems to ratify the consensus in both parties that there will be no far-reaching budget deals in the coming year,” said Robert L. Bixby, Concord’s executive director. “This is a campaign-year document and should be assessed as that.”

A proposal last year to switch to a more accurate measure of inflation known as “Chained CPI,” for example, has been dropped in this year’s budget. Using Chained CPI would save money in Social Security and other federal programs with cost-of-living increases. It would also affect tax brackets, resulting in additional government revenue.

“The budget makes a point of saying that Chained CPI is still on the table for discussion as part of a larger budget agreement, which is positive reassurance that it has not been dropped for substantive reasons,” Bixby said. “There is a danger, however, that its omission from the budget could be seen as a step away from the table.”

The administration’s new budget includes an investment agenda of roughly $400 billion in additional spending over the next 10 years. While the White House deserves credit for suggesting ways to pay for that spending through higher revenues and mandatory spending reforms, it would mean that these provisions would no longer be available to reduce the large federal deficits that are currently projected for the coming decade.

The administration’s budget also relies on certain economic and revenue assumptions that are considerably more optimistic than those used by the Congressional Budget Office, the nonpartisan agency that is considered the official score-keeper for analyzing fiscal proposals.

A continued emphasis on fiscal reform is clearly needed. Although the federal deficit dropped sharply last year, under current law deficits are expected to begin rising again after next year -- adding to a federal debt that is already extremely large by historical standards.

An aging population, high health care spending, an inefficient tax code and rising interest costs are key factors in the projected deficits over the next 10 years. Absent substantial changes, the nation’s fiscal health will continue to deteriorate after that. That’s why fundamental changes are essential in the health care system, the tax code and the nation’s big entitlement programs, including Social Security and Medicare.

“The President deserves credit for attempting to restrain some Medicare spending and suggesting tax reforms that would reduce costly provisions in the tax code that favor some individuals and businesses,” Bixby said. “The administration’s proposals in these areas have the potential to draw bipartisan interest and support, and members of Congress in both parties would do well to consider them.”

Elected officials should also consider changes in the budget process so that it focuses more on oversight and long-range planning, and less on pointless brinksmanship over the federal debt limit.

Given this year’s elections and the complacency in Washington that seems to have set in concerning the budget, however, such progress on budget issues is likely to be extremely difficult in the year ahead. Strong leadership, a sense of political responsibility and bipartisan compromise will be required.

Media Contact: Steve Winn, swinn@concordcoalition.org, 703-254-7828

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The Concord Coalition is a nonpartisan, grassroots organization dedicated to fiscal responsibility. Since 1992, Concord has worked to educate the public about the causes and consequences of the federal deficit and debt, and to develop realistic solutions for sustainable budgets. For more fiscal news and analysis, visit concordcoalition.org and follow us on Twitter: @ConcordC