Congressional Budget: Back to Old Tricks

Washington Matters

Congressional Budget: Back to Old Tricks

Boy, that didn't last long. Say what you want about President Obama's budget, but he deserves a lot of credit for at least being honest about his plans. His projections of economic growth may be on the optimistic side (though not outrageously so), but he included the expenditures he knows are unavoidable. That's more than you can say about the congressional alternatives being drafted on the Hill this week.

Lawmakers -- mainly Democratic Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad -- have cut Obama's projected deficit but much of the cut is on paper only -- and worth about as much. They've gone back to many of the tricks that Congress has long used and that President Bush raised to a new level.

Consider the alternative minimum tax. We know it will be fixed every year (until it's permanently fixed) to keep it from hitting too much of the middle class. Obama took the cost of that fix into account, but Conrad accounts for it in only three of the five years covered by his budget, and then "assumes" it will be offset with other cuts or new revenue after that. How, he doesn't say.

Obama also includes $750 billion that will likely be needed for more financial bailouts. That's gone from Conrad's budget, but you can be sure that if it's needed, it will be added later as an "unforeseen emergency." And Conrad assumes Obama's middle class tax cuts will end in two years. (Will all those congressmen who plan to vote in two years to raise taxes on Americans please raise your hands?)


Then there's health care. No money for any changes in that. We'll deal with it when the time comes, says Conrad, because we can't predict what it will cost. That sounds a little like Bush budgeting no money for Iraq because we couldn't predict just how much it was going cost.Obama included a huge amount of money to accommodate health reform to both spur Congress to act and to avoid just adding any additional cost to the deficit.

This isn't to say there aren't real cuts in the budget that Conrad and his colleagues are proposing, or that the cuts aren't needed. But what we don't need to cut from Obama's plan is the honesty about future spending and costs.