October 30, 2014

The (Tab)ulation

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Monday, May 24, 2010 - 5:27 PM

Today the Senate began considering the $59 billion supplemental spending bill (HR 4899) that the Senate Appropriations Committee approved last week. The bill includes emergency funding for priorities such as military operations in Iraq/Afghanistan, disaster assistance and veterans disability payments.  (For more details on the legislation, please see last week’s Washington Budget Report).

During the course of the week, amendments will likely be proposed to add extraneous items to the bill.  The Concord Coalition urges policymakers to resist adding non-emergency spending that will add to deficits that are already fiscally unsustainable. If these items are added, they should be paid for without emergency designations that exempt them from budget allocations.

Another potential addition to the bill is a procedural device called a “deeming resolution.”  Deeming resolutions are procedural shortcuts that Congress resorts to when its members have not lived up to their responsibility to pass a budget resolution.  Deeming resolutions have...

Monday, May 24, 2010 - 5:25 PM

The extenders bill that the House will consider this week is a timely reminder of why it is important for Congress to complete action on a budget resolution.  A budget resolution continues to elude Congress, but there has been considerably less trouble reaching agreement on a bill that the Congressional Budget Office estimates will add a staggering $167 billion to the deficit over 2010-2014 and a net increase of $134 billion over 2010-2020. 


Last Thursday, leaders of the Senate...

Monday, May 10, 2010 - 3:08 PM

 

recent story on CNN-Money by Steve Hargreaves asks “What will BP really pay?” I think a more fundamental question to ask at this point is “What should BP pay? And should no one else?” As the story explains (emphasis added):

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) — The Gulf oil spill is going to cost billions to clean up, a tab BP has publicly pledged to pay in full.

But thanks to the unpredictable nature of the oil slick and the legal maze surrounding maritime law, what BP will pay and to whom is very much an open question…

Start with the costs. Estimates to clean the spill and compensate other parties for the economic damage run from $2 billion to $14 billion. One politician even said it could run into the hundreds of billions

…which is a lot of money, too much for even BP to cover (whose profits were, coincidentally,...

Sunday, April 25, 2010 - 9:53 PM

President Obama’s bipartisan fiscal commission will hold its first meeting on April 27. It has two very ambitious assignments -- find a way to balance the budget excluding interest on the debt by 2015 and “meaningfully improve” the long-term fiscal outlook. All of this is supposed to be done by December 1, 2010.

That’s quite a task. It may even be too much to ask. So here is a simple suggestion for the commission: Leave the short-term goal to the regular budget process and focus on the more important long-term goal.

Finding long-term solutions to the nation’s unsustainable fiscal outlook is what originally motivated members of Congress to propose a statutory commission. Only when that effort failed did the President step in by establishing an executive commission with the added goal of filling a gap in his budget.

The short-term budget goal could easily distract the commission from its long-term mission. Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, a commission member, had it right when he told POLITICO last week, “I don’t think a commission should be absorbed with the short-term budget. We need them to focus on long-term structural problems.”

Simply determining which baseline to use in assessing the required deficit reduction in 2015 would get the commission bogged down. They can’t know what it...

Sunday, April 11, 2010 - 9:45 PM

I have never been a fan of the Bush tax cuts. I’ve always felt they were too costly, too skewed to the rich, and did too little to make the tax system more efficient. Concord also warned about the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts before they were enacted and has since continuously said they should not be extended without a plan to address the nation's unsustainable fiscal outlook.

The expiration of the cuts, at the end of this year, is fast approaching and policymakers in Washington are struggling to decide what to do with them. President Obama has promised to continue most of the same tax cuts that he himself has criticized for being fiscally irresponsible. Not only has he promised to extend the tax cuts for all households with incomes below $250,000 (at a budgetary cost of $2.2 trillion over ten years), but he also promised to never raise any taxes on households below that income.

However, President Obama has also promised to get the deficit down to a "sustainable" level of around 3 percent of GDP in five years. But the President's own budget, which includes the deficit-financed extension of those "middle-class" Bush tax cuts (that $2.2 trillion worth), isn't consistent with such a low deficit. CBO says that under the...

Wednesday, March 31, 2010 - 11:00 AM

According to a March 29 Roll Call article (subscription required), Senate Republicans have gone home for the two-week congressional recess with a strategy memorandum advising them to call for repeal of “Medicare cuts, tax hikes, mandates and sweetheart deals” in the new health care reform legislation.

Leaving aside the sweetheart deals, repeal of the other three items would amount to a fiscal catastrophe. One can legitimately argue that the law will end up costing more than anticipated or that some of the proposed savings will fail to materialize. Claims of big deficit reduction do indeed rest on some shaky assumptions, and the law certainly leaves a lot of work to be done on fiscal sustainability. However, the surest way to guarantee exploding deficits would be to leave in place all of the popular insurance reforms and repeal the politically difficult choices that have been made to pay for them.

Expanding health insurance coverage costs money. Unlike the 2003 Medicare prescription drug bill, this plan at least attempts to pay for its new spending by cutting future Medicare costs and raising new revenues. Constituents may not like these things but they are essential parts of the law. They are also protected by...

Tuesday, March 23, 2010 - 2:06 PM

This week, Concord debuts a redesigned version of our Washington Budget Report

The report is a weekly emailed newsletter from The Concord Coalition designed to keep our grassroots constituents informed about developments in fiscal policy by explaining them in plain language. We also include links to important reports and studies from government agencies and think tanks, as well as linking to pertinent news articles.

Coming soon, we will also be including answers to frequently asked questions that our field and policy staff tend to get as we go around the country educating citizens about the federal budget. We will also have a link to a new "Concord Indicators" page that will have a list of the most often referenced numbers and data about deficits, debt and the budget.

Please sign up here to receive the reports, and if you have any suggestions send them to concordcoalition@concordcoalition.org.

Friday, March 19, 2010 - 2:25 PM

It looks like we might be entering the final week(s) of (at least) this year's legislative push on health care reform.

Thursday brought us legislative text of the amendments to the Senate bill that the House will take up through the reconciliation process as well as an updated CBO score of the whole package. It is likely the House will vote on the bill package Sunday. If they do so, the Senate bill will become the law of the land, and the reconciliation amendments will then have to make it though the Senate before those become law.

The main fiscal takeaway from this week is that there really has not been any substantial change in what heath care reform is attempting to accomplish and whether it will ultimately be fiscally responsible legislation. Today we released a series of video discussions (see above) between Bob Bixby and I explaining the big picture and how the reconciliation tweaks effect that. One of the issues discussed is that clearly the most consequential fiscal change through reconciliation is the delay in implementation of the excise tax on cost insurance plans.

For a more complete view, our December Issue Brief, created as the Senate bill neared passage,...

Thursday, March 4, 2010 - 7:16 PM

Perhaps the most difficult policy question Concord has been discussing with the public, the media, and members of Congress, is what to do about current large budget deficits given the lingering effect of a deep recession and projections for future debt levels due to population aging and rising health care costs. Does working on one problem preclude working on the other? The answer is no.

David Walker of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation and Lawrence Mishel of the Economic Policy Institute had a good Op-Ed in Politico this week exploring the question. They highlight that:

The difficulty is that many politicians and news organizations often cast deficit debates as a dichotomy: You either care about them or you don’t.

But this is rarely accurate. The fact that the two of us, who have philosophical differences on the proper role of government, find much to agree on about deficits is a testament to the importance of dropping this useless dichotomy and finally talking about deficits in a reasonable way.

...

Though a concern, most of the recent short-term rise in the deficit is...

Tuesday, March 2, 2010 - 10:47 AM

The end game for health care reform may finally have arrived. Some in Congress are suggesting that a decision should be made by the Easter break, which begins on March 26. Time is running short.

If we learned anything from last week’s health care summit, it is that the final end game negotiations will not take place between Democrats and Republicans but among various factions of Democrats.

Republicans now sense big gains coming in the November elections and thus have no motivation to move in Obama’s direction. Any attempt to draw them into a negotiation –- including the “start from scratch” option Republicans themselves are pushing -- will likely fail.

Democrats are split, with some fearing for their jobs if they support an unpopular bill while others believe that passing even a flawed bill will leave them better off in November.

One casualty of the situation may be cost containment. Democrats are mostly united around coverage expansion. That’s the easy part. Their biggest difference is on the more difficult question of aggressive cost containment. The two most promising cost-containment strategies still on the table are the tax on high-cost health care plans and the...