All the President's Budget Gimmicks


Not one penny!

The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget explains the Obama administration's latest budgeting gimmick:

Traditionally, proposed policy changes are measured from what is called a "current law" baseline. This baseline essentially looks at the law, the way it is written, and attempts to project tax and spending paths over the next decade. Budget scorers then measure the magnitude of policy changes by estimating how far they will cause taxes and/or spending (and deficits) to diverge from that baseline.

The Administration has argued, though, that this current law baseline is unfair. It assumes all the Bush tax cuts will suddenly expire at the end of 2010—even though this would result in significantly higher taxes in 2011; it assumes policy makers won't prevent the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) from hitting middle-class tax payers—even though they have been for years; and it assumes that, a month from now, Medicare will pay physicians 21 percent less than it does now—even though no politician would let this happen.

Because of this, the Administration says it should be able to measure its policies off of a "current policy" baseline. We disagree; if President Obama wants to extend the Bush tax cuts—the same ones which he criticized the Bush Administration for not paying for—he should have to offset them, or else fess up to using them to increase our debt.

In essence, the White House is saying that because it is widely assumed (though not technically required) that certain prior-administration policies will continue, the Obama administration should not have to account for the budgeting effects of choosing to continue these policies. So they incorporate those policies into their baseline—their assumption about the budgetary outlook should no changes be made—and in doing so, make their deviations from the baseline seem much smaller. Suddenly, the Obama administration can claim to have caused a much smaller increase in the deficit. It's an implicit shift of blame onto the prior administration.

Now, the Bush administration clearly deserves a significant amount of blame for the country's dire fiscal prospects, but at this point, blaming Bush doesn't fix any problems. Tricks like this are not just meant to produce more favorable projections and press, they are meant to avoid responsibility—and thus avoid having to make tough decisions about how to solve difficult fiscal problems.

NEXT: Hurtling Down the Road to Serfdom

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  1. Then this guy will really piss your off.

  2. IIRC, Obama’s first 10-year budget outlook (last year) claimed something like $2 trillion in savings from ending the war in Iraq–as if that spending was to go one indefinitely. And the Left cheered the accounting gimickry of bring the Iraq war “on budget” so Obama could claim the savings of reducing those expenditures in the future.

  3. You actually missed the even worse part of what the Administration is doing. That first part is defensible, in some sense. Yet, from the article:

    But let’s accept, for the sake of argument, that the Administration should be allowed to budget from a current policy baseline. Even in that case, they are cheating.

    The Administration is taking two tax provisions from the 2009 stimulus bill — expansions of the child tax credit and the EITC — and claiming them as part of the “current policy” Bush tax cuts. And they are doing something similar for Pell grants: assuming that they will receive sufficient funding to pay out the maximum grant level set in the stimulus bill.

    The Administration didn’t inherit these policies, they created them. And worse, still, they created them as explicitly temporary, under a stimulus bill which they claimed was meant only to help bring us out of this recession.

    That’s just indefensible, to pretend that provisions that they want to make permanent from the stimulus bill, well, the effect on the deficit is still Bush’s fault.

  4. The administration is lying about teh budget? Shocking.

    Let’s recall, just for a brief moment, that if any of us kept books the way the fed does, we’d be in jail. All federal budget projections are bullshit, they just need to be kept consistent. The problem here is that changing the rules in this regards opens the door to greater monkeying around with the numbers later. Do Obama and his accomplices forget that at some point, a Republican will be back in office?

    1. Do Obama and his accomplices forget that at some point, a Republican will be back in office?


      The Democrats have a mandate! They’ll always be in power from now on. Just like the GOP in 2004!

      And don’t forget, T, you paranoid lunatic, that after that some point where a Republican is back in office, after them a Dem will be back. So it’s all good.

      1. Expand the power of the state because sooner or later the right people will be back in charge? I hadn’t ever thought of it that way, but it does make a twisted sort of sense. Especially if you’re as much of a statist fuck as everyone in the Obama camp seems to be.

        1. Of course, the flaw in their plan is that on that magic day when the pendulum has swung sufficiently far to discard any pretense of limited government, it could be the other guys who get to seize power.

    2. I thought deficits don’t matter when Republicans are in office.

  5. The Center for Responsible Budgeting


  6. Basically, what the Obamatrons want to do is create an imaginary baseline for the budget, one constructed from rainbows and unicorn farts.

    Why anyone other than died in the wool Obamabots would think that is defensible in any way is completely beyond me.

    1. It would be sort-of okay to including the AMT patch and the Medicare doc fix, since the same “temporary” extensions keep getting passed.

      But, as this shows, once they make the fateful decision to shift to a “current policy” baseline, they can’t figure out where to stop. Including policies from the stimulus is just absurd.

      1. Nope. Not even that. First off, its a foot in the door for other imaginary changes. Second, they take the budget credit for the tax cut expiring when they pass it. Why shouldn’t they take the budget hit when they extend it?

    2. Died in the wool? Are they sneaky but incompetent wolves?

    3. “died in the wool”

      Is that like towing the lion?

      1. No, lions don’t have wooly manes. But it would explain how the lion turned blue.

  7. if President Obama wants to extend the Bush tax cuts?the same ones which he criticized the Bush Administration for not paying for

    So yet again, “We’re not doing anything different than Bush, quit bitching at us.”

    It’s gonna be hilarious when Obama wipes off the black-face makeup and reveals himself to actually be Dubya.

    1. Or maybe Obama was wearing whiteface makeup during the aughts, like Eddie Murphy in that SNL skit. “Ha ha that silly negro”.

  8. Since Bush’s “tax cuts” increased revenue and made actual tax collections even more progressive, why does Obama believe that allowing them to expire will increase revenue and make tax collections more progressive?

    1. mumble mumble right people in charge mumble mumble

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