A new bipartisan budget deal to avert another possible government shutdown in January was released today by Paul Ryan and Patty Murray, chairpersons of their respective Budget Committees. It’s features are less than impressive:
- Spending levels for fiscal year 2014 would rise to $1.012 trillion, and $1.014 trillion for fiscal year 2015. For comparison, spending levels under the current sequester total $967 billion.
- In exchange for rolling back $63 billion in sequestration cuts, other savings include greater federal employee pension contributions and $23 billion in long term deficit reduction.
- The provision doesn’t raise taxes, but does increase Transportation Security Administration (TSA) fees, among others, that will be passed to the people.
Influential conservative groups, and those in Congress (a la Marco Rubio), have already come out in opposition. Hard to blame them. The sequester was, frankly, the most meaningful set of cuts enacted during President Obama’s term. The president said the sequester would never happen given Republican desires to save the defense budget. They called the bluff, and cuts were effected.
The sequester was blacklisted as “draconian”. It cut $85 billion for 2013, a reduction in the budget roughly equivalent to the way sea levels fall when water clings to a swimmer when he gets out. Technically true, but ultimately meaningless. This new deal trades in that $85 billion in cuts for $63 billion in increased spending right now, leaving about $23 billion in deficit reduction in place. Except that the deficit reduction is realized over 10 years. So that’s $2.3 billion a year. A rounding error. A fraction of a rounding error.
Anyone serious about preventing the train from going over that cliff called Oblivion should be very wary of trading right-now cuts for ones that reduce the savings by 73 percent and spread them over ten years. Entitlement reform is saved for another day, despite these “third rails” representing the bulk of our long-term fiscal difficulties. Additionally, spending increases now to be compensated by cuts later have famously flamed out in the past. The cuts never materialized, but spending began immediately. No reason to think it won’t happen again.
The GOP can hardly afford the bad press of another government shutdown, but this deal might be as bad. It’s an unserious proposal that sacrifices right-now deficit reduction on the alter of a publicly-visible bipartisan “compromise”.
Politics trumped policy again.