GOP budget leaders: The president's fourth straight budget flop underscores need for reform

The many gimmicks in the president’s fourth and final budget of his first term indicate how easily the budget process can be abused — and underscore the need for reform of the process itself, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan and Senate Budget Committee Ranking Member Jeff Sessions said on a conference call this morning.

The two GOP budget leaders say the president’s budget reduces the deficit by at most a measly $273 billion rather than by $4 trillion, as the administration claims — and it’s dishonest accounting that enables the president to conceal the truth. The president essentially repeals, for example, the $1.2 trillion sequester (spending reduction plus interest savings) negotiated in the Budget Control Act this summer — and doesn’t score the elimination of the cuts at all. In like fashion, he assumes cuts to Medicare providers won’t actually happen, but that Congress will continually pass the so-called “doc fix” to ensure providers receive pay increases. Here’s the catch: He doesn’t even so much as hint at how to pay for the fix. He also counts the inevitable winding down of the war costs in Afghanistan — all of which is borrowed — as $1 trillion in spending reduction. The Senate Budget Committee breaks it down:

Deficit Effect of the President’s Fiscal Plan

(2012–2022, in trillions of dollars)

President’s Math

Honest Math



Tax Increases


Eliminate BCA Fallback Sequester


Savings from Ending War



Savings from Other Programs



New Stimulus Spending



New Surface Transportation Spending


Freeze Medicare Physician Payments



Interest Savings from Lower Debt




The president — like presidents before him — is able to claim nearly $3 trillion in reduction that he hasn’t actually proposed because the budget process today relies on the discipline and honor of politicians and does nothing to actually enforce honest budgeting. Ryan and Sessions have a plan to change that — a series of budget reforms that would put teeth in the law.

In the House, Ryan said, Republicans have already passed four of ten budget reform bills. In the Senate, Sessions continues to champion the Honest Budget Act to eliminate accounting tricks. Pollster Frank Luntz once called that bill “legislative perfection.”

Unfortunately, these reforms have so far gone nowhere — and, in the meantime, the lack of a more enforceable proces doesn’t excuse the president — or, perhaps more importantly, the Senate — from following the process that is in place now.

“We think we should improve the binding nature of the budgeting process, but that’s no reason not to follow the process we have now,” Ryan said. “The process works if it’s applied.”

The Senate, of course, hasn’t applied the process, refusing to pass a budget in more than 1,000 days. The president’s answer is to suggest his budget does what it doesn’t. Excuse me for the black-and-white language, but I’d say that’s called “lying.”

“Is it acceptable for the president of the United States to mislead the American people as he’s now done again?” Sessions asked today. “Isn’t it incumbent upon the chief executive officer like our governors and mayors all over America to honestly tell their constituents the seriousness of the issues they face and to honestly lay out a plan to get us out of it? I’m just baffled by this and really think we’re placing the nation at risk. We can lay out a plan that would avoid this crisis.”

Fortunately, the president’s budget — like his budget last year — is highly unlikely to pass. Unfortunately, that means we still await action by our leaders to forestall what Simpson-Bowles called the most predictable economic crisis in history.

“We have a debt crisis on our horizon,” Ryan reminds us. “For the fourth year in a row, he’s decided to do nothing about it and he’s actually created a budget to make it much, much worse.”
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