President Obama's Budget: It's Always a Good Time to Spend More!


Barack Obama has released his budget proposal for fiscal year 2016, which begins in October. The best thing about the plan is that it's released on time this year. That's been all too rare an occurrence, and not just for the president: One of the most stunning yet under-reported stories of the past several years is the unwillingness and inability of the federal government to hit basic deadlines when it comes to budget issues. Of course, coming up with a plan, which is typically a wish-list, is only the beginning of a budget process that has gotten seriously FUBAR during the Obama years.

Not that the outcome of such problems is necessarily bad: The main reason why federal spending flattened and declined after 2010 is precisely nobody involved in the process could hit their deadlines. The subsequent arguing over everything, coupled with a rare willingness to debate raising the debt ceiling or—horror of horrors—tying an increase in spending now to fiscal rectitude, helped keep spending from exploding as it did under George W. Bush and the Republican Congress, plus the first two years of Obama's presidency.

The big numbers in Obama's budget are these: He wants to increase total spending to $4.1 trillion, up from $3.9 trillion in fiscal 2015. Total revenues are expected to be $3.7 trillion, up from $3.3 trillion (see table S-1). As per the ritual, there are projections for the upcoming decade, which are meaningless and even less binding that the president's plan for this year.

Obama's budget message is the same sort of ideological meringue he's been whipping up for years now. It's heavy on rising inequality and the role of government in…taking money from the wealthiest and…saying it will use it somehow to buffer global trends in wages:

Today, after 4 years of economic growth, corporate profits and stock prices have rarely been higher, and those at the top have never done better. But average wages have barely budged. Inequality has deepened. Upward mobility remains stalled. Even in the midst of recovery, too many Americans are working more than ever just to get by—let alone get ahead. And too many still are not working at all. Our job is to reverse these trends. We need to return to an America where our success depends not on accident of birth, but on the strength of our work ethic and the scope of our dreams. That is what drew our forebears here. Opportunity is who we are. And the defining project of our generation is to restore that promise. It will not happen right away. But we must continue to strive toward that goal.

Most interesting in this the passive acknowledgement that "upward mobility remains stalled." Typically, Obama and many Democrats and Republicans have been stressing the mobility is decreasing or a thing of the past. That is simply not true and it's kind of nice to see the president note that (he was singing a different tune even a year ago), at least on the down low.

As The Hill notes, Obama's budget "busts" spending caps that were put in place a few years ago.  One of the bigger ticket items is a six-year "infrastructure" plan to build more roads and bridges, and the big news on the tax front is a corporate tax plan that would allow U.S. companies to bring home overseas profits and pay a lower rate on them.

Politico is calling this document "Barack Obama's 'have-it-all' budget" and not without reason. It increases discretionary spending by $74 billion over what sequestration was supposed to allow. It doesn't pretend to balance the budget but through rosy projections of various sorts claims to stabilize and slighly reduce the national debt over the coming decade. It increases entitlement spending (from $2.4 trillion to $2.57 trillion) and grows defense spending (see table S-4), which will be a bargaining chip with Republicans who just want to keep spending more on defense.

As Maryland Democrat Rep. Chris Van Hollen said shortly before the State of the Union Address, "We believe [Democrats and Republicans] should work together to lift the caps on both" military and non-defense spending.

Consider it done. Obama's budget is not inspirational, or bold, or anything. It's basically the same document that he's been kicking around for several years. This time, however, he's on time with its delivery, the economy is marginally better, and it's been a while since the feds have gotten a chance to increase spending.

When you combine that with a new Republican congressional majority that has constituents and interests to pay back, and Obama's willingness to boost defense spending (despite the end of two wars and a huge increases over the past 15 years), I suspect that Obama and Congress will indeed find a way to increase spending across the board even as they argue that the other is bankrupting the country, killing the very soul of the country, and dancing on the graves of the poor, the old, the middle class, and the good, honest people of America who have not yet been born.

The whole budget is online here.