(Budget) Games People Play

The era of Hope and Change has begun, where the oceans recede, the planet cools, and government has become more open and honest.  Right?  No?  If the first two haven’t happened, Politico reports that the last one certainly hasn’t, either.  As bad as Barack Obama’s budget numbers look, game-playing by the White House and Congress have hidden a situation that looks much worse:

Having agreed on a budget for the coming year, Congress and the White House are doing what follows next in Washington: trying to get around it.

President Barack Obama’s spending plan would effectively use funds from his stimulus program to pad next year’s accounts in the Department of Homeland Security. The House wants to go in the opposite direction: front-end-loading 2010 foreign aid money into 2009 to buy more room for domestic spending next year.

And for all the talk about honest budgeting, the administration badly understated the military’s true personnel costs when the president submitted his war funding request in April.

In response to questions from POLITICO, the Pentagon said Monday it now estimates it faces an additional $2.35 billion shortfall in personnel accounts for the remainder of this fiscal year ending Sept. 30. Nearly three-quarters of the money would go to the Army and Army National Guard, which have blown far past their 2009 manpower targets, thanks to a bad economy and a system of often costly enlistment bonuses.

When Congress debated Porkulus, we stated that the only stimulus it created was for government.   This confirms that.  Obama wants to play a shell game with stimulus spending to get around budget restraints, turning Porkulus into an executive-branch slush fund.

As for underestimating the military’s costs, well, that hardly surprises.  Had Obama low-balled the Department of Agriculture, for one example, Congress would feel less pressure to find additional funding to cover the shortfall.  Besides, having a Treasury run by a man who serially miscalculated his personal taxes doesn’t exactly build a case for mathematical competence in the financial side of the administration.

What happens when Democrats get together to iron out a dispute over scarce funds for pet issues?  David Rogers describes the process:

Obey won an important concession, securing an extra $2.6 billion for foreign aid accounts and thereby relieving some of the budget pressure next year. And the two chairmen were aiming for a “ high split” in their defense numbers, meaning the final number will likely be $4 billion to $5 billion higher than the administration’s request.

The administration was hopeful of getting new financing for the International Monetary Fund. But there were also signs that Obey would get, in turn, an increase in foreign aid funds, allowing him to shift costs from 2010 forward.

Got that?  In the middle of an economic crisis, with tax revenues falling through the floor, Democrats had a choice between increasing foreign aid or increasing the financing for the IMF.  Resolution? Do both!  Spend it all!  And why not?  They don’t intend to live by their own rules until the midterms roll around:

All these forces come to play this week as House and Senate negotiators hammer out a $91 billion-plus war funding bill, which in the parlance of budget writers, is the last “free money” before Democrats are pledged to turn over a new leaf in 2010, beginning Oct. 1.

Democrats have promised that “new leaf” since 2006, when they won the majority in both chambers of Congress.  Obama promised it since 2007, when he began his run for the Presidency.  And yet, now that promise won’t take effect until October 1st.  We won’t hold our breath on this one.