It is difficult to try and figure out what to say about the proposed budget coming out of the White House. Today, it is the very conservative agenda that is attempting to remake the role of government. It essentially tries to remove significant portions of the social safety net that has been constructed however imperfectly over the past 50 years. While I may disagree with the choices, that is a legitimate exercise in trying to prevail with your philosophy. What is disingenuous at best is to assume a rate of growth to pay for everything that is slightly north of wishful dreaming. Actually, using this same method of accounting, they could assume a surplus soon by estimating that their policies would produce growth – and not at the 3% currently incorporated into their budget which is laughable – but why not at 4% or 5%? At those rates, we will eliminate the deficit more quickly, right?
Actually, the real author here is Speaker Paul Ryan. As those of you who pay attention to the minutia of government know, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is a non-partisan arm of the Congress that is charged with estimating or “scoring” the fiscal impact of major changes in law. This was established so there would be an independent group of professionals who would address the proposed changes not as partisans with a policy agenda, but rather as people who would estimate the impact. Both parties have quarreled with the CBO scoring from time to time, but it has served as a good watchdog for all of us as each party has tried to underestimate the cost and overestimate the value of different policy choices.
What Ryan introduced in recent years to make his numbers work is what is called “dynamic scoring.” What that really means is that if you accept their policy, and their assumptions (like growth of 3% – see above), even if there is no evidence or experience that would make a rational person believe it, then the numbers work. Thus, the deficit magically disappears.
Now, dear reader, I invite you to watch the dance that will ensue. Conservative Republicans will rail against the deficit, raise defense spending, cut taxes and declare with a growth rate of 3% that all will be well and, really, we don’t have to cut funding for any politically popular programs in their districts or states. Conversely, liberal Democrats will denounce all cuts as heartless and ignore any possibility that tax reform might help the economy grow faster. Both are against waste and fraud (huge surprise) and both believe if we can ferret it out of our government then their favorite programs can be saved. The likely result is that once again it will require a continuing resolution to keep the government lights on and they will kick the can down the road once more.
Now I hope I am wrong. I would love to see Speaker Ryan invite Representatives Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Steny Hoyer (D-MD) to a sit down with Senators Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) to see if we couldn’t do better. Everyone would have to give up something but, overall, the country would gain a working system. They could eliminate the idea that everything must be a zero-sum game, but that would take courage and these days we seem to have more interest in profiles.