The Six Issues That Could Cause a Government Shutdown

 

It is now just ten days until the new government fiscal year begins on October 1 and Congress has not yet passed a budget for the new fiscal year. Although a temporary funding bill could be brought up and passed at any time, the Washington Post thinks that there are six big impediments to adopting a new budget.
CaptureThey are:

  • Planned Parenthood. 31 House Republicans insist that they will support no spending bill which has funding for Planned Parenthood. Short term funding should not be in danger because the Democrats will step in if necessary to keep the government open.
  • The Sequester. This is a much tougher issue because the Democrats want to break the 10 year Sequester spending limits. It’s the Republicans strongest leverage and they should insist on dollar for dollar spending cuts elsewhere in order to relax the Sequester cuts.
  • A Challenge to Boehner. The anti-Planned Parenthood caucus is threatening to try to oust John Boehner as Speaker if they don’t get their way. Hopefully the Democrats would help to keep Boehner because any replacement would be more conservative and less accommodating to them. I personally think that John Boehner is a miracle worker given the hyper-partisanship in Washington at the present time.
  • The Iran Nuclear Deal. Republican desire to express opposition to the Nuclear Deal could surface as a bargaining chip in budget negotiations. As bad as the Nuclear Deal is, this is a bad budget strategy.
  • The Export-Import Bank. The Ex-Im Bank expired in June. Its supporters might try to refund it as part of a budget deal for next year. It should be allowed to die unless it undergoes reform to remove subsidies for big businesses such as Boeing and GE.
  • The Highway Trust Fund. The problem is that the 18 cent/gallon federal gasoline tax is insufficient to fund our infrastructure needs. The most sensible approach is to raise the gas tax by a few cents per gallon. Attempts to provide funding from other sources should be resisted.

 

Bottom Line: Republicans should be flexible except on overall spending limits. It is absolutely essential to the future wellbeing of our country to strongly focus on eliminating budget deficits.

The Government We Deserve

 

“As for the future, your task is not to foresee it, but to enable it.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupery, 1900 – 1944

An important new book, “Dead Men Ruling,” by the Urban Institute’s C. Eugene Steuerle, has just been published.  Here is the flavor of its message:
Capture“Dead and retired policymakers have put America on a budget path in which spending will grow faster than any conceivable growth in revenues. … The same policy makers also cut taxes so much below spending that they created huge deficits, which have now compounded the problem with additional debt.”
“Both sides have largely achieved their central policy goals – liberals have expanded social welfare programs, conservatives have delivered lower taxes.  Both now cling tenaciously to their victories.”
In short, “our central problem is the loss of fiscal freedom.” There are “four deadly economic consequences of this disease:

  • rising and unsustainable levels of debt,
  • shrinking ability of policymakers to fight recession or address other emergencies,
  • a budget that invests ever less in our future and is now a blueprint for a declining nation, and
  • a broken government, as reflected in antiquated tax and social welfare systems.”

In addition there are “three deadly political consequences:

  • a decline of ‘fiscal democracy’ depriving current and future voters of the right to control their own budget,
  • a classic ‘prisoner’s dilemma’ where both left and right leaning elected officials conclude that they will suffer politically if they lead efforts to impose either spending cuts or tax hikes, and
  • rising hurdles to changing our fiscal course because, to do anything new, requires reneging on past promises of rising benefits and low taxes, that voters have come to expect.”

In other words the U.S. is in a very difficult predicament.  Mr. Steuerle thinks it will take a major “fiscal turning point” to escape from the present danger.  Both sides will have to make big concessions in order for us to get out of this jam.  But how is this possibly ever going to happen?  More next time!

Why Is It So Hard For Congress To Do Its Job?

 

In response to the recent budget deal which has already passed the House of Representatives, Taxpayers for Common Sense has issued a new report “Real Savings, Real Deficit Reduction: Relieving Budget Caps with Common Sense Savings in Fiscal Year 2014”, showing how $100 billion could be cut from the federal budget for fiscal 2014, completely offsetting the supposedly onerous cuts required by the sequester.  Here is a summary of what TCS has come up with:
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Of course there are many ways to achieve $100 billion in savings in a single year and this is only one particular way to do it.  But it is a balanced plan making roughly comparable cuts from many different agencies and also including a significant amount of tax expenditure savings.  It would, of course, be much better to also include adjustments to entitlement spending such as Social Security and Medicare.  A big reason for keeping the sequester in place, or offsetting it with equivalent cuts, as TCS is suggesting, is to create more interest in making necessary changes in entitlement programs.
Yet another way of accomplishing the same goal would be to keep the sequester spending levels in place but to give each government agency the authority to rearrange the spending cuts within its only agency.  This is what management should be doing anyway on a routine basis.
It is very disappointing that Congress will not do the job, one way or another, that is required to operate the government on a sound financial basis.  Let’s hope that the voters make big changes in the elections coming up in 2014!

Is a Bad Deal Better Than No Deal At All?

 

Beltway insiders are praising the just announced budget deal between the Democrats and the Republicans.  For example, a news analysis in today’s Wall Street Journal, “Accord Is Departure for Capitol”, suggests that budget politics may be changing, getting any deal is very hard, that perhaps bipartisanship isn’t dead in Washington but that there is still unfinished business.  This is a purely euphemistic assessment.   All this deal really does is to let the big spenders off the hook.
What it does is to relax the sequester by $63 billion for the next two years for very little in return.  The $84 billion in new fees over ten years “officially” reduces the deficit by $21 billion but two year’s worth of new fees is just $16.8 billion.  This means that the deficit will actually increase by $46 billion over the next two years.
But the real problem is that the leverage represented by the sequester is being thrown away for the next two years and this sets a bad precedent for the future.  For example, we can now assume that the debt limit will also be raised for two more years in February 2014 because there will no longer be any leverage for bargaining for any other changes.
This in turn means that entitlement reform is for all practical purposes dead for the next two years.  This is the really hard problem to solve.  Big spenders will do anything to avoid dealing with it.  Responsible fiscal conservatives know it must be addressed and need all the help they can muster to get something done.
What happens if the budget deal is not passed by Congress?  It simply means that the sequester remains in effect and that discretionary spending will be $43 billion lower this current budget year than otherwise.  The value of the sequester is to force action on the really thorny issue of reducing entitlement spending.  Let’s preserve it for this purpose and not throw it away for nothing significant in return.
Leaders are supposed to address issues, not walk away from them!