James Pethokoukis

Politics and policy from inside Washington

New Obama budget knife a dull blade

May 24, 2010

If I was a U.S. taxpayer or holder of U.S. Treasuries, I would not take much comfort from President Barack Obama’s proposed Reduce Unnecessary Spending Act. Points for effort, I suppose. But fast tracking and streamlining the current fiscal process that allows the White House to submit proposed budget cuts from spending bills would do little.

1. As the Heritage Foundation notes, since 1990, presidents have proposed clawing back only $20 billion of legislated spending, with Congress approving just $6 billion of these rescissions. That’s just .01 percent of all federal spending.

2. A study by Douglas Holtz-Eakin, former head of the Congressional Budget Office, found that an even tougher measure, a line item veto, has a poor track record — at least at the state level. (Here is a good summary of research on the topic via the NY Fed.)

Holtz-Eakin noted that in studying the effect of line-item vetoes at the state level, he found they produced mixed results. He found no major differences in spending between states where governors had this power and states where they did not.

3. Some two-thirds of the budget — mandatory entitlement spending would be off limits.

4. Such expanded powers might work in reverse. It would give the White House power to cajole Congress into supporting its spending policies by threatening to cut the pet projects of individual members.

5. To be fair, this new proposal is just another step in controlling spending – not a solution in and of itself. Obama has already proposed a temporary freeze in some domestic programs and created a deficit panel to suggest more comprehensive solutions. The move also keeps the danger of deficits firm in the public consciousness, though Europe’s woes should be reminder enough. But the White House must be careful about deluding the electorate into thinking that current efforts by the government to trim waste will be sufficient. Investors in Treasuries surely expect bolder fiscal action.

Comments

An easy way to rout government spending would be a 10-year surge of inflation. For example, between 1973 and 1982 inclusive the US experienced an 85% aggregate increase in the CPI, which translates into sharp cuts in national debt and entitlements spending. Moreover, a national referendum is not even required. More at:

http://wjmc.blogspot.com/2010/05/student -recently-remarked-to-me-that.html

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