money
Photo: Emily Metcalf
money
Photo: Emily Metcalf

BY TAXPAYERS FOR COMMON SENSE – Two months late, the president’s budget request joins the separately adopted House and Senate budget resolutions. Not surprisingly, everyone seems to like their own toy the best. Even Democratic Senate Budget Committee Chair Patty Murray (WA) opined about the president’s proposal, “It’s not the budget I would write on my own, and it includes several policies that I don’t think are the best ways to tackle the deficit and debt.” But that’s to be expected.

Let’s get one thing straight: all budgets are pie-in-the-sky wish lists. They have about as much chance of being enacted exactly as written as a six year old’s wish list being completely fulfilled by Santa. Inevitably, budgets assume revenue or spending cuts that are anathema to the other party or other branch of government. Even when their party controlled both the House and Senate, neither President Bush nor Obama got everything they asked for — not even close. Budgets, whether from the president or Congress, are as much a political statements as a spending plan of action.

Interestingly, for the first time in memory, the president’s budget request is the last one to the dance. Though the House and Senate have already acted, the president’s budget is still very influential. For one thing, the background and underlying data driving the President’s discretionary spending request (the part of the budget guiding the spending bills enacted every year) is much fuller than what came from Congress. They will serve as the starting point for the appropriations committees – the folks who hold the nation’s check book.

As far as the president’s revenue proposals, most were regurgitated from previous budgets. Yes, there’s some fresh meat like increasing the federal cigarette tax by 94 cents per pack (to $1.95) to pay for universal pre-K, or shifting to a chained CPI for Medicare and Social Security, or reforming international food aid. But like ‘em or hate ‘em, eliminating oil and gas tax breaks, cutting agriculture subsidies, the Buffet rule, and limiting deductions to the 28 percent bracket are all retreads.

So why are they back? Some of it has to do with policy beliefs and a lot of it has to do with optics. And that’s true with all budgets. No matter how unlikely it is a particular proposal will be enacted, the revenue or savings generated by it benefits the budgetary bottom line. There’s no handicapping the proposals. So between some aggressive (and base-appealing) policy prescriptions and predicting a robust rebound in the economy, your deficit and debt woes can look significantly brighter.

For instance, the House Republican budget assumes budgetary balance in the next ten years. That takes into account the significant domestic discretionary and some mandatory cuts they predict will be enacted to get there. But you might be surprised what set of Democrats did the best in deficit reduction. Not the Senate, not the president, but the House Progressive Caucus that assumed significantly more revenue and significantly greater Pentagon cuts than either of their Democratic brethren.

Though some liken budgets to policy road maps with numbers, we see it more like a buffet. Our elected officials need to load up their plates with some common sense proposals, break bread together, and come up with a deal to tackle taxes, spending, and entitlements that, while maybe not the tastiest concoction, is one we can all swallow.

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