October 21, 2014

Posts on federal budget

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Friday, February 14, 2014 - 11:46 AM

The House Budget Committee last week approved a bill on a bipartisan 22-10 vote that would switch the annual congressional budget process to a biennial (two-year) cycle.

The legislation, introduced by Rep. Reid Ribble (R-Wisc.), a committee member, has attracted 100 co-sponsors, roughly a third of whom are Democrats. The Concord Coalition has commended Rep. Ribble for pursuing this option.

The difficult struggle each year to pass appropriation bills has made it harder for lawmakers and federal agencies to focus on structural problems in the budget and develop more responsible long-term fiscal policies.

Ideally, biennial budgeting would help Congress improve its allocation and oversight of discretionary spending, which makes up one-third of the budget.

During the first year of a 2-year cycle, lawmakers would set funding levels for federal agencies. Congress would then use the second year to concentrate on oversight, examining how federal agencies administer various programs, how effective the programs are and whether...

Friday, January 31, 2014 - 11:34 AM

For those interested in a vision of fiscal sustainability, the State of the Union Address was a major disappointment.

President Obama noted that the deficit has been cut in half, which is a positive development, but he offered no strategy for making further progress. At $680 billion and 4.1 percent of the economy, last year’s deficit was still quite high. More troubling is that fiscal policy remains on an unsustainable path -- a projection that deserved at least some passing mention.Obama briefly acknowledged that more could be done to bring down the deficit “in a balanced way,” but the general sense was that it was time to move on.

Few would dispute that creating new jobs is a top priority, but that task is compatible with a continued focus on fiscal sustainability. Indeed, a properly phased-in fiscal sustainability plan would improve the economic outlook. Moreover, the budget agreement hailed by the President did little to address either.  

When the President did mention fiscal issues in his speech it was mostly to promote new spending or tax cuts with no cautionary reminder that even a “pay-as-you-go” standard will...

Friday, January 17, 2014 - 1:52 PM

Many state and local governments have done little to address growing structural problems in their budgets that have been aggravated by federal deficit-reduction efforts, according to the State Budget Crisis Task Force.

The bipartisan organization released its final report last week, reiterating a stark warning from its previous reports: “The existing trajectory of state spending, and administrative practices cannot be sustained.”

Former Federal Reserve Chair and Concord Coalition board member Paul Volcker co-authored the report along with Richard Ravitch, a former lieutenant governor of New York. They urged state and local governments to deal with their budget problems and suggested that federal policymakers should focus more attention on how their own deficit-reduction efforts will impact other levels of government.

The task force’s work has concluded with this report, but Volcker plans to start a new organization, the Volcker Alliance, that will follow up on the recommendations and issues raised by the task force.

The task force recommends that Congress create an office to monitor and analyze how federal actions will affect state and local budgets, possibly as part of the Congressional Budget Office.

...

Tuesday, January 14, 2014 - 11:14 AM

A new report by the Office of the Actuary at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) found that health care spending over the past four years grew at the slowest rate recorded in more than half a century. The spending grew by 3.7 percent in 2012; since 2009 the annual rate has been between 3.6 percent and 3.8 percent.

That's down from the 5.5 percent average increase over the past decade, and well below the average annual increase of 11 percent observed in the 1980s and 13.1 percent average annual increase observed in the 1970s.

The recent slower growth contributed to the first reduction in health care costs as a share of the economy in 15 years, down to 17.2 percent of GDP in 2012 from 17.3 percent in 2011.  

It is good news that we are bucking the historical trend on health care cost growth. But the causes for this are not completely understood and thus we have uncertainty as to the sustainability of the trend.

Several factors are at work, including: the last recession and subsequent slow recovery, programs and policies initiated by Obamacare, structural changes in the health care...

Thursday, December 12, 2013 - 10:12 AM

President Obama hailed the two-year budget deal reached by House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Budget Committee Chair Patty Murray (D-Wash.) as a “good first step.”

If he meant a good first step toward broader reforms needed to put the nation’s finances on sounder footing for the long-term, let’s hope he is right.

It is not clear, however, that Capitol Hill leaders, or the President for that matter, have any plans to follow up this very modest achievement with anything more.

Under the terms of the agreement, spending caps for appropriations would be adjusted upward for 2014 and 2015, resulting in an outlay increase of $62 billion over 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO)

That increase, however, is calculated from the “sequestration” level that neither party ever intended to go into effect. The new caps would still be lower than the original caps put in place by the Budget Control Act of 2011 and lower than the levels under the Simpson-Bowles plan or the original Ryan budget.

The spending increase would be more than offset by an array of future cuts in mandatory (non-appropriations) spending and higher user fees together totaling $78...

Friday, December 6, 2013 - 3:19 PM

Extending emergency unemployment compensation for another year would add 200,000 jobs but carries a price tag of $25 billion, according to an analysis released recently by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). Such an extension now appears to be a central focus of negotiators trying to reach a budget deal before Congress adjourns for the year.

Emergency unemployment compensation (EUC) provides more “bang for the buck” than many other policies aimed at improving the economy. It provides an immediate surge in economic activity due to recipients quickly spending their benefits on consumer goods and services, which boosts aggregate demand and induces businesses to increase production and hire more workers.

CBO noted that part of this positive effect is offset as some workers reduce the intensity of their job searches in response to the extension of benefits.

Emergency unemployment compensation was approved in 2008 as the unemployment rate was rapidly rising due to the recession. It provides at least 14 additional weeks of benefits to individuals who have exhausted...

Wednesday, December 4, 2013 - 8:28 AM

If the recent past is any indication of how elected officials will deal with the country’s short- and long-term fiscal challenges, Americans – and especially younger ones – are in trouble.

Washington will have to step up its game.  And ordinary Americans can help by encouraging their elected representatives to forgo political  theatrics in favor of timely budgets and more responsible policies.

That was the consensus of budget experts as well as former lawmakers who spoke at a conference Tuesday on Capitol Hill. The conference was organized by the University of New Hampshire’s Warren B. Rudman Center for Justice, Leadership and Public Policy in cooperation with The Concord Coalition and several other organizations.

With congressional negotiations on an overdue budget for Fiscal 2014 still sputtering, speakers at Tuesday’s conference considered what it would take to avoid a federal debt crisis.

They generally agreed that lawmakers in both parties as well as the President should put a greater focus on developing realistic solutions and exercising bipartisan cooperation.

“We have got to get our colleagues to lift themselves out of this political quagmire -- and forget, just for...

Saturday, November 23, 2013 - 9:36 AM

Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), a member of the budget conference committee, on Tuesday released a proposal that replaces roughly half of the sequestration scheduled through 2021 with savings from mandatory spending and revenue from ending corporate tax expenditures.

The plan calls for $455 billion in mandated cuts to be replaced by $200 billion in revenue from closing corporate tax loopholes, and $255 billion in savings from entitlement reforms. The plan also calls for smoothing out the sequester cuts, slowing their growth in earlier years and increasing them in later years to achieve the same amount of deficit reduction.

King, who named his proposal the “Grande” plan after Starbuck’s middle-sized cup, represents the “middle-of-the-road” approach to fiscal policy that has been sorely lacking in Washington over the last few years.

To attract support from both parties, King also calls for lower corporate tax rates and increased infrastructure spending. These would be paid for by $325 billion in revenue from ending certain corporate tax expenditures, which are subsidies built into the tax code....

Monday, November 18, 2013 - 1:16 PM

In recent interviews and speeches, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says the military is “challenging every past assumption, every past formula” for allocating budget resources as he tries to reorganize the military for 21st century challenges in the face of a rapidly tightening budget.

Hagel appears to be on the right path in encouraging top Pentagon officials to take a fresh look at everything in setting defense priorities. But uncertainties about sequestration and the Fiscal 2014 budget in general are complicating that work.

In January a new round of sequester cuts is scheduled to reduce the military’s budget cap by $21 billion. The Pentagon faces nearly $1 trillion in overall spending cuts over the next decade due to the budget caps and sequestration put in place by the Budget Control Act. In FY 2012, the defense budget was $670 billion.

Pentagon Comptroller Robert Hale says he implemented $37 billion in cuts required by the sequester earlier this year in part by delaying sending army units...

Monday, October 28, 2013 - 9:38 AM

Who says that Democrats and Republicans can't reach a grand bargain?

Harry Reid and Paul Ryan seem to have it figured out. If Democrats and Republicans don’t demand compromises from each other, everyone can get along. It’s the perfect political grand bargain: Do nothing.

Unfortunately, that could easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The prospects for a real grand bargain – one that actually makes some headway on solving our fiscal imbalance – are not looking good right now. It is particularly disappointing, however, that already two key members of Congress are simply accepting the gridlocked status quo rather using their leading positions to figure out a better result.

In an interview with the Associated Press (AP), Ryan summed up his view this way: “If we focus on some big, grand bargain then we’re going to focus on our differences and both sides are going to require that the other side compromises some core principle and then we’ll get nothing done.”

That’s a bit like saying elected officials can’t do a grand bargain because it would require a grand...