October 1, 2014

Budget Process: All Dressed Up, Nowhere to Go

  • The federal budget is an expression of our country's values. Where we choose to spend and at what levels, how and who we tax, and the borrowing we...

The differences between the 10-year budget plans by President Obama and the House of Representatives would be difficult to resolve under the best of circumstances.

Without a Senate plan, however, there is no prospect of a concurrent congressional budget resolution -- and thus little chance that Washington will focus on anything beyond next year, Concord Coalition Executive Director Robert L. Bixby says in a new blog post.

Some lawmakers say a December agreement on a cap on appropriations (“discretionary” spending) eliminates the need for a budget resolution this year. But in that case, why have a budget process at all – or even a budget committee?

There is more to the budget than annual appropriations, which Bixby notes are just a minor factor in our long-term fiscal problems.

Appropriations are already projected to shrink from 7.2 percent of GDP in 2013 to 5.1 percent by 2024 -- the lowest level since the early post-WWII years. Mandatory spending other than Social Security and the major health care programs is also projected to drop.

But Social Security, health care programs and interest on the debt are projected to grow by a cumulative 3.9 percent of GDP, cancelling out the other savings. The key factors: population aging and growth in per capita health care costs.

“A budget deal that merely agrees on 2015 appropriations leaves no plan for dealing with the structural forces driving up future deficits and debt,” Bixby says. “It leaves no sustainable vision for the future of mandatory spending and revenues.”