July 28, 2014

Posts on discretionary spending

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Thursday, March 31, 2011 - 1:30 PM

Moe, Larry and Curly are fighting in the back seat of the car. No one is in the driver’s seat. As the boys settle down, Curly looks up and says, “Hey, don’t look now but we’re about to be killed.”

Leave it to The Three Stooges to provide the perfect metaphor for what passes as a budget debate in Washington these days.

It appears that we’re headed for a government shutdown in April and a possible default in May all because politicians can’t stop squabbling over a few billion dollars from a small slice of the budget while our overall fiscal policy is headed for a cliff.

The long-awaited “adult conversation” has not yet begun.

Very few dispute the fact that we’re on an unsustainable fiscal path. Yet too few seem willing to take the mountain of official and unofficial warnings seriously enough to do anything about them.

Indeed, they seem eager to engage in a reckless game of fiscal chicken, virtually daring the other side to do something responsible. We are left with a fierce debate over non-security appropriations that account for only 12 percent of the budget.

That is why even tentative sprouts of reason are worth nurturing. For...

Thursday, March 24, 2011 - 3:30 PM

Budget-watchers in Washington are quite interested in how Republican Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, will write a budget that will achieve the numerous and sometimes conflicting aims of his conference. The difficulties facing him are the subject of a recent Concord Coalition issue brief, which we just updated to reflect the new numbers from the CBO's Preliminary Analysis of the President's Budget. 

Ryan faces the need to show noticeable progress on deficits (within at least five to 10 years) because the new Republican majority feels one of the main reasons they were elected in November was because voters were angry about large deficits. He also faces a group of freshmen Republicans who were elected on platforms that primarily called for cuts in non-defense, discretionary programs, while promising to protect defense spending, cut taxes, and not talk too much about the long-term spending challenge in popular entitlement programs.

As the issue brief illustrates, through a hypothetical...

Thursday, November 11, 2010 - 3:07 PM

The problem with campaign rhetoric is that you’re stuck with it if you win.

The danger is that people might just believe you can really do all the wondrous things you promise and if you don’t deliver, they get angry. That, in part, helps to explain what happened to President Obama and congressional Democrats last week.

Now, it’s the Republicans’ turn to see if they can live up to their campaign rhetoric. On the fiscal front, they have set a very high bar for themselves.

Republicans campaigned on a written pledge to put the nation on a path to a balanced budget by cutting spending and not raising taxes.

It is easy to see the political appeal in that promise. Most people think the deficit is too big and that the federal government spends too much. Very few want to see their taxes go up.

The problem with the Republicans’ pledge is that the numbers don’t add up.

Forget ideology and just look at the projections. Last year’s deficit came in at $1.3 trillion. This year, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects a deficit of $1.1 trillion. Beyond then, CBO projects 10-year deficits totaling $6.2 trillion.   

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Monday, September 20, 2010 - 10:10 AM

Below are several developments we have been following since the last edition of the Washington Budget Report (sign up here) was published.


FY 2011 REGULAR APPROPRIATIONS: 
With less than two weeks remaining before the beginning of the new fiscal year, Congress has not passed a budget resolution or enacted a single appropriations bill for the coming year.   The House has passed a deeming resolution which could be used to pass the appropriations bills, though the Senate has not passed a similar measure.  Last week the Senate Appropriations Committee completed action on the legislative branch and defense bills. ...

Monday, August 2, 2010 - 10:58 AM

Below are several developments we have been following since the last edition of the Washington Budget Report (sign up here) was published.

FY 2011 APPROPRIATIONS:  Prior to departing for the August recess, the House passed the first two FY 2011 appropriations bills. The Military Construction-Veterans Affairs bill passed by a vote of 411-6 and the Transportation-HUD bill passed by a vote of 251-167. House subcommittees reported the...

Monday, July 26, 2010 - 10:14 AM

Below are several developments we have been following since the last edition of the Washington Budget Report (sign up here) was published.

COMMITTEES REPORT ADDITIONAL FY 2011 APPROPRIATIONS BILLS:  Last week the House Appropriations Committee continued to make progress on the FY 2011 bills.  The full committee reported the Military Construction-Veterans Affairs bill as well as the Transportation- Housing and Urban Development bill.  Both bills are expected...

Monday, July 19, 2010 - 3:51 PM

Last week President Obama nominated Jacob “Jack” Lew to be the new head of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), replacing Peter Orszag, who is stepping down at the end of July. OMB is primarily responsible for developing the President’s budget.

If confirmed by the Senate, as expected, Lew will become OMB director for the second time. He served as President Clinton’s director from 1998 through the end of the Clinton administration in 2001.

While Lew is familiar with the job, the budget picture has changed considerably. Lew was OMB director during the only four years of budget surpluses since the late 1960’s. He was also a key negotiator on the bipartisan balanced budget agreement in 1997. Now the budget environment is even more partisan and the country is experiencing the largest deficits since the end of World War II.

The change in OMB leadership provides an opportunity to review the changes that have taken place since Lew’s last stint as budget director and also gives us another chance to review the major decisions looming for the federal budget.

The final budget presented by Lew for the Clinton administration in February of 2000 (FY 2001)...

Monday, July 19, 2010 - 10:34 AM

Below are several developments we have been following since the last edition of the Washington Budget Report (sign up here) was published. 

2011 APPROPRIATIONS PROCESS MOVES FORWARD AS TIME STANDS STILL FOR THE 2010 SUPPLEMENTAL: Last week the House Appropriations Committee continued to make progress on the FY 2011 bills. House subcommittees reported the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs; Energy and Water; and...

Monday, June 14, 2010 - 4:05 PM

If the Obama administration follows through on its newly announced effort to identify and weed out unproductive federal programs, it could build public confidence and support for more sweeping fiscal reforms in the future.

The White House has asked federal agencies to submit lists of the programs that are “least critical” to their missions.  These programs should total at least 5 percent of  each agency’s budget, according to a memo issued by Rahm Emanuel, the President’s chief of staff, and Peter Orszag, the White House budget director.

It would be easy to dismiss the administration’s announcement of this effort as simply a public relations exercise.  But two points are worth noting:

  • Administration officials say they are considering not just paring back many programs but eliminating them entirely. This would be consistent with the concerns they have expressed in the past over redundant programs. If one program will do the job, we don’t need two – or two dozen.
  • The President wants Congress to pass legislation that would create a...
Wednesday, June 9, 2010 - 1:04 PM

The Obama administration has announced a very small effort to reduce deficit spending, and yet liberal groups are attacking them for promoting a policy that will kill the economy – or at least prolong the recession. And conservatives continue to argue that any “stimulus” spending is by definition “wasteful” – especially if they don’t get how a less-idle economy might benefit themselves personally.

But “fiscal hawks” can walk and chew gum at the same time. It’s possible to argue for more and better stimulus at the same time that you call for greater fiscal responsibility. Here are two prime examples, starting with Concord's executive director, Bob Bixby. He was quoted in a CQ Weekly story by Clea Benson (subscription required):

Robert Bixby, the executive director of the Concord Coalition, is at the forefront of the effort to publicize the dangers of uncontrolled federal spending. But even he worries that the economy is not yet at a point where it makes sense to forgo extending...