Thursday, July 14, 2011

This is what happens when the politicians don't follow the rules

Former federal judge and former counsel for the OMB Michael W. McConnell has a column in the WSJ that makes the very salient point that part of the problem that we're seeing today unfold with the debates over raising the debt ceiling stem from the fact that the Democrats have not followed federal law as laid forth in the 1974 Budget Control and Impoundment Act. This is the law that set forth a very specific procedure for our leaders to propose budgets, have them scored by the CBO, and voted on in Congress. Since the Democrats ignored this law both last year and this year we don't have public discussion of what has been proposed. We don't have the competing plans before us to be scored by the CBO under the same criteria so we can have a real comparison. We don't even know what has been put forth - all we get is the spin and leaks that each side puts forward in the press and we know how much to trust the media's interpretation of what is going on behind closed doors. McConnell gives a few examples of the known unknowns at this point.
This year, without a genuine presidential budget, or any Senate budget, the negotiations are shrouded in fog. The president may tell press conferences that he proposed $3 trillion in spending reductions, but there is no way to know what that means without a budget.

To give some pertinent examples: We have no way of knowing whether the president's claimed reduction in deficit spending is based on current spending or on projected spending. The difference is probably about $1.8 trillion over 10 years.

Likewise, we have no way of knowing whether the proposed spending cuts are real. All too often in past budget deals, the "spending cuts" were based on gimmicks, or on promises of future cuts that never actually were made. For example, Congress has promised to pay doctors, hospitals and drug companies less for performing the same services. This never really happens.

The House budget contains a specific proposal for reducing the future cost of Medicare. The administration prefers an expert commission that will supposedly find hundreds of billions of dollars in painless savings from undisclosed changes. A real budget would specify the changes so that the public could compare the two alternatives.

Some observers claim the president has simply offered his own April plan as a "compromise" and told the Republicans to take it or leave it. The public has no way to know.
Do we want to have another situation like the stimulus or the health care bill where some massive spending agreement is worked out behind closed doors and then cobbled together in legislative language with barely a day for people to read and study the details? This is not how to make decisions based on trillions of dollars. This isn't how to make a decision that may indeed involve policy changes on taxes or entitlements. A few people sitting around a table shouldn't be the ones to make a decision and then force it down the throats of their parties without sufficient time to study it. There are rules on how a budget should be agreed to. The House GOP did their part. They took a tough vote. The Democrats prefer to demagogue rather than put their own plan forth in public. For shame. This is not leadership. It's just partisan scheming without concern for the common good.

Let's not follow Nancy Pelosi's method of legislating where we have to pass a bill in order to find out what is in it.