The Politicians Debating the Budget Are Lost in Wonderland

If only it were all just a bad dream.



One need not be intricately familiar with the tale of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland to appreciate that the federal budget process has similarly become an alternate reality replete with sketchy characters, peril, and the absurd. In the latest trip down the Beltway rabbit hole, a Republican-led Congress relied on Democratic votes to produce a two-year budget agreement that removed the limit on Uncle Sam's credit card and increased spending now in exchange for offsetting spending cuts and revenue increases that will mostly occur 10 years from now. Well, that's if future Congresses stick to the offsets.

No, seriously.

Let's start with the federal debt, which had been stuck at $18.1 trillion since March, thanks to the Treasury Department's seemingly magical ability to keep it from breaching the government's statutory limit on debt even though spending continued to outpace revenues all the while. Under the deal, the debt limit is suspended until March 2017, which means policymakers won't have to sully themselves working on the debt problem any time soon.

Regardless of the efficacy of the debt limit, one would think that chipping away at that $18.1 trillion of debt (equal to approximately $56,000 for every man, woman and child in the United States) would be the priority on Capitol Hill. But if Capitol Hill has a priority, it is to find a way to gather the votes to go deeper into debt—and to do so by spending even more of other people's money.

It was that bipartisan desire to increase the flow of money coming out of the federal spending spigot that led to a budgetary framework that is as disingenuous as the grin on the Cheshire-Cat's face. The deal busted limits on federal spending (for the second time) that policymakers had reluctantly put in place just four short years earlier. Although imperfect in design, the budget caps and their enforcement mechanism, sequestration, had actually imposed a modest degree of spending restraint. But like the debt limit, it appears that the limits on federal spending exist to be broken.

Capitulating to the White House's desire to jack up spending and, consequentially, the federal debt, the Republican leadership resorted to the time-honored trick of using the Congressional Budget Office's 10-year "score" of the legislation to make the claim that the additional spending is "paid for."

Except that it's not.

I won't go into the weeds of how CBO scoring works. Non-budget wonks need only know that according to the score, of the $80 billion-plus in additional funding provided for the next two fiscal years, roughly half of it is to be "paid for" in 2025. If you're asking yourself what's to stop future Congresses from ignoring the pay-fors, move to the front of the class. Indeed, before the budget deal had even been signed into law, Republican leaders were already promising the members of Congress who represent agricultural interests that $3 billion in offsetting cuts to the federal crop insurance program will quickly be nixed.

Adding insult to injury, a review of the deal by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget found that the actual spending increase will be $154 billion and that only approximately half of that amount will be "legitimately" paid for. That's because the deal's authors employed a number of budget gimmicks that would be embarrassing to anyone who has any shame. But this is Congress we're talking about.

If only it were all just a bad dream.


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  1. Republicans, essentially democrats with bibles.

    1. They are both progressive parties, but one side is authoritarian and one side is totalitarian.

  2. I remember when Bush was passing his first set of tax cuts in early 2001. They got the price to be below some arbitrary number by saying the cuts would all be reversed in the 10th year. Everybody knew that was a fantasy. It undoubtedly happened before but I wasn’t really paying attention before then, being a teenager and all…

  3. Why do people keep voting for these thieves?

    I guess it’s because more thieves want the job than righteous people.

    So we can’t get rid of them at the ballot box. What’s left?

    1. Please! It’s not “thieves”-maybe a “confederacy of dunces”, though!

    2. The cartridge box?

    3. Why do people keep voting for these thieves?

      They are giving the American people what the American people routinely demand: a huge, intrusive federal government paid for by somebody else.

    4. We’ve got the government we deserve

  4. Im making over $9k a month working part time. I kept hearing other people tell me how much money they can make online so I decided to look into it. Well, it was all true and has totally changed my life. This is what I do,

    ———- http://www.onlinejobs100.com

  5. Our society has learned to live in credit and now we have the results of such attitude to money. People have no idea how to cover their own debts that are just increasing with student loans and mortgages. And the whole country has no support of gold reserve, so all debts are making the situation only worse. Many people are also caught in a trap of financial services. They forget to check quick loans online reviews and use irresponsible companies. So the budget should be created according to the high national debt and with a plan for repaying it.

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