Welcome to the Concord Coalition's weekly Washington Budget Report: a nonpartisan plain English summary of key budget, appropriations, and tax developments.
The Concord Coalition Washington Budget Report is written and edited by Charles Konigsberg, Chief Budget Counsel of The Concord Coalition. If you have questions or comments about the Washington Budget Report, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Budget Process: Step-by-Step
Track 1- Economic Stimulus:
Track 2 - Completion of '09 Appropriations:
- March 11: President signed omnibus appropriations bill funding agencies through the rest of FY09
- April 9: President transmitted an $83 billion FY 2009 supplemental request to Congress
- May 14: House passed FY 2009 Supplemental appropriations bill
- Week of May 18: Senate takes up FY 2009 supplemental appropriations bill
Track 3 - FY 2010 Budget:
- February 26: President Obama transmitted a budget outline.
- March 20: CBO released its Preliminary Analysis of the President's FY 2010 budget (using CBO economic projections)
- March 25-26: House Budget Comm and Senate Budget Comm marked-up their respective versions of the FY 2010 Congressional Budget Resolution.
- April 29: House and Senate adopted Budget Resolution Conference Report (S.Con.Res. 13).
- May 11: Administration released remaining details of President's FY 2010 Budget
- May-Sept: Action on the 12 regular FY 2010 appropriations bills, beginning with the House and Senate Appropriations Committees dividing their budget resolution allocations among their 12 subcommittees (known as 302(b) allocations)
- October 15: Budget Resolution Deadline for committees to report budget reconciliation legislation (health care and student loan reform).
Track 4 - Stabilizing the Financial, Housing, and Auto Sectors (Ongoing)
- Concord's Financial Crisis Timeline w/ links
- Feb. 10: Treasury released Financial Stability Plan.
- Feb. 18: President announced Homeowner Affordability and Stability Plan
- Feb. 26: President released 2010 budget including a $250 billion contingent reserve for additional financial stabilization
- March 3: Treasury and Fed announced launch of TALF to boost consumer, small business credit
- March 18: Fed announced plan to pump $1.15 trillion into financial markets
- March 23: Treasury announced plan to purchase "toxic assets"
- March 26: Treasury Secretary announced regulatory overhaul for financial industry
- May 7: Results of bank stress tests released
- March 5: White House Summit on Health Reform
- May 11: White House meeting with Key Stakeholder Groups
- Early June: Senate Finance and HELP Committees to mark-up health care reform bills
- Oct. 15: Deadline for congressional committees to report health care reconciliation legislation (if bipartisan negotiations on a non-reconciliation bill have failed)
- Week of May 18: House Energy & Commerce Committee to markup the Waxman-Markey climate change bill, aiming towards completion of committee action before Memorial Day.
- Waxman-Markey climate change bill ("The American Clean Energy and Security Act")
- Leaders of key congressional committees have begun negotiating the parameters of the next multiyear highway bill (FY 2010-2015). The House is aiming for Floor consideration of a bill in early June, though there are some in the Senate who believe the bill may not be completed until next year.
- For the period covered by the budget resolution (2010-2014), Congress allocated $259 billion to the relevant House and Senate Committees for highway and transit spending. This amount reflects a $67 billion increase above the "baseline" level--which is tied to current highway bill spending.
- Important note: the federal gas tax which funds the highway trust fund is already insufficient to cover baseline levels of spending.
- Even though the highway trust fund is already seriously underfunded (by $41 billion over the next five years), transportation advocacy groups are seeking significant increases over and above the $67 billion increase built into the budget resolution.
- American Association of State Highway and Transporation Officials estimates
- American Public Transportation Association estimates
Trustees Report Shows Medical Hospital Fund Already in the Red
Medicare is a national health insurance entitlement program for Americans 65 and older. The program also covers workers who have become disabled. The program has four parts:
- Part A Hospital Insurance, financed primarily by current workers' payroll taxes (1.45% payed by current employers and employees), covers hospital services, post-hospital services, and hospice care.
- Part B Supplementary Medical Insurance, financed primarily by general tax revenues (as well as premiums and copayments), provides optional coverage for physician services, outpatient hospital care, home health care and medical equipment.
- Part C "Medicare Advantage" provides managed care options for beneficiaries enrolled in Parts A and B.
- Part D Prescription Drug Coverage, financed by general tax revenues and premiums, provides optional drug coverage for the elderly and disabled.
HI Trust Fund already running a cash deficit.--The 2009 Trustees Report found that Medicare's Hospital Insurance Trust Fund already paid out more in benefits last year, than it received in cash income.
Moreover, cash deficits will continue to grow due to the rapid increase in health care costs and the retirement of the baby boom generation.
Part A Trust Fund Income in 2008*: $215 billion. Outgo during 2008: $236 billion.
SMI Trust Fund: Medicare Part B and Part D comprise the Supplementary Medical Insurance (SMI) Trust Fund. However, since general revenues are automatically pumped into this "trust fund" to cover expenditures not paid for by premiums and copayments, it is not a trust fund in any meaningful sense. This stands in contrast to the HI Trust Fund, which is financed by a dedicated revenue source (primarily payroll taxes).
*(Excluding interest from the Treasury, which is simply an intragovernmental transfer)
Trustees Report Projects Social Security Deficit in 2016
Last week, the Trustees of the Social Security Trust Funds (Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability) released their annual report. In a nutshell, following is the status of the trust funds, based on the Trustees' findings:
- Social Security is a pay-as-you-go program where incoming payroll tax revenue revenues (6.2% each from employers and employees) pay for benefits disbursed to retirees and disabled Americans.
- Cash flow deficits are projected to begin in 2016, as opposed to last year's estimate of 2017.
- Cash deficits will continue and worsen as the baby-boom generation retires.
- The assertion that "social security surpluses" will keep the program solvent until 2037 is misleading, because the surpluses do not actually exist except on paper. The surpluses consist of IOU's from the Treasury Department to the Social Security Trust Funds (Treasury Bonds) and can be redeemed only if taxes are raised, spending is cut, or the Treasury borrows the money.
- Dedicated tax income (including taxation of benefits) projected for 2016: $986 billion.
Benefit payments projected for 2016: $1,005 billion
Who are the Trustees? Secretary of the Treasury Geithner; Secretary of Labor Solis; Secretary of HHS Sebelius; and Commissioner of Social Security Astrue. The two public trustee positions are vacant.
Back to the Future: Another Greenspan Commission to Fix Social Security?
An effective Social Security "fix" is not technically complicated but is politically complicated in today's highly partisan environment. Nevertheless, the longer the President and Congress delay action, the more difficult the remedial measures will become.
Fixing the Social Security system requires a commitment by both parties to work together, as they did on the Greenspan Commission in the early 1980s and on which Senator Bob Dole (R-KS) and the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY) served.
A bipartisan Commission should examine all options with no preconditions. Some combination of the following policy options would lilkely be considered.
- adjusting the calculation of annual cost of living adjustments (COLAs) or placing modest limits on COLAs;
- using "progressive indexing" to slow the growth in initial benefits for higher income retirees;
- a modest increase in the taxation of Social Security benefits for high-income individuals;
- small and gradual increases in the retirement age (to address longer life spans and the deteriorating ratio of workers to retirees); and
- adjusting or restructuring the payroll tax which currently applies to wages up to $106,800 per year.
Social Security's looming shortfall should be addressed without further delay. The sooner adjustments are made, the more gradually they can be phased in. Moreover, it would be fiscally irresponsible allow our nation's rapidly growing public debt to be further exacerbated by ballooning Social Security deficits in the next decade.
House Passes '09 War Supplemental; Senate Action This Week
This week the Senate will take up a $91 billion FY 2009 supplemental appropriations bill to provide additional funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and other needs. The funds are intended for military operations and other government programs during the remainder of fiscal year 2009 (which ends September 30. 2009).
The House last week passed an $85 billion version of the war supplemental (H.R. 2346) by a vote of 368-60.
As passed by the House last week, the supplemental bill would also provide funds for:
- pandemic flu preparedness and response;
- wildfire suppression;
- nuclear non-proliferation (to safeguard nuclear material in Russia and other sites);
- military assistance to Pakistan;
- economic and security assistance to Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, the West Bank, and Gaza;
- international food, refugee, and disaster assistance;
- contributions for UN peacekeeping;
- the Global Fund to Fight AIDS;
- the International Monetary Fund for developing countries impacted by the financial crisis;
- special pay for military personnel who have had their enlistments involuntarily extended since 9/11; and
- interoperable communications for the U.S. Capitol police.
The Senate bill would provide $1.4 billion more in war funding than President Obama requested, but $5.4 billion less than the House-passed version.
Finance Committee Releases Options for Financing Health Reform
Today (May 18, 2009) Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) and Ranking Republican Chuck Grassley (R-IA) released policy options for financing health care reform. Under rules set forth by this year's budget resolution, the costs of health care reform must be fully offset by spending cuts and/or tax increases.
The document does not endorse specific options, but seeks to define the universe of possible funding sources. Specific options described by the Finance Committee report include the following:
- modify the exclusion for employer-provided health care;
- modify the exclusion of Medicare benefits from income;
- modify or repeal the deduction for medical expenses exceeding 7.5% of adjusted gross income;
- modify Health Savings Accounts;
- improve Medicare payment accuracy;
- modify the payment rate for home health services and inpatient services;
- adjust reimbursements for high-growth, over-valued physican services;
- modify payments for medical equipment;
- increase Medicaid drug rebates;
- modify Medicare beneficiary contributions;
- means-test Medicare Part D (Rx drug) premiums;
- extend Medicare payroll tax to all state and local government employees
- modify the requirements for tax-exempt hospitals
- impose a uniform alcohol excise tax
- impose a sugar-sweetened beverage excise tax
Recent Budget Documents
America's Priorities: How the U.S. Government Raises and Spends $3 Trillion Per Year, by Charles S. Konigsberg, Editor, The Concord Coalition's Washington Budget Report.