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February 03, 2011

CAP Bill: The Check Is In the Mail

I hate this type of proposal as it offers the appearance of a fix while doing nothing to actually fix anything. Everything will supposedly happen in the future; nothing happens now.

That may not be exactly fair because supposedly this proposal does have some teeth in it (in theory, at least), by dictating a smooth reduction in federal spending from the current high of 24.7% of GDP down to 20.6% of GDP in ten years, with mandatory across the board budget reductions by the OMB in any year that Congress violates the guideline.

(1) Put in place a 10-year glide path to cap all spending – discretionary and mandatory – to a declining percentage of the country’s gross domestic product, eventually bringing spending down from the current level, 24.7 percent of GDP, to the 40-year historical level of 20.6 percent, and

(2) If Congress fails to meet the annual cap, authorize the Office of Management and Budget to make evenly distributed, simultaneous cuts throughout the federal budget to bring spending down to the pre-determined level. Only a two-thirds vote in both houses of Congress could override the binding cap, and

(3) For the first time, eliminate the deceptive “off-budget” distinction for Social Security – providing a complete and accurate assessment of all federal spending.

But we've seen this gimmick before -- the Gramm-Rudman budget reduction bill was supposed to do this too, but didn't, because they used fake accounting practices (such as pushing back spending into, supposedly, previous years, and previous years can't be modified by rules about current spending) and calling other spending "off-budget."

Spending cuts require real spending cuts. Something like this might be useful, but only in combination with real, current spending cuts. Otherwise this is just putting cuts off into a vague future than never actually comes.

I'm also pretty sure the threat of the OMB cutting Congressional spending is unconstitutional -- I don't believe Congress can delegate to the executive such a huge portion of its core constitutional responsibility and power. Plus, the OMB can always itself fudge the numbers, if the political will exists in DC to just lie in order to keep spending -- which it almost always will.

PAYGO II? I didn't have to reach back to Gramm-Rudman for a similar "law." Supposedly Nancy Pelosi's Congress abided by PAYGO rules, which were supposed to strictly match new spending to either cuts or (more likely) new taxes.

PAYGO was a wonderful success, as you can see from our current $1.4 trillion deficit. They just declared whatever they wanted to spend outside of PAYGO rules.

I don't see how Congress can ever lack that power -- the power to just say "We're voting to do what we want, now, no matter what 'rules' are supposedly in place." Congress actually can do that. And I don't see anything short of an amendment that can stop them. Any Congressional legislation can be overturned or suspended by a later Congress. That's the point of Congress, to change the law and write new law. They can evade any limits they supposedly put on themselves.

There may be some minor salutary effect of Corker's proposal but it's more than outweighed by the fundamental tendency of such fake, hypothetical maybe-someday type "cuts" to always be offered in place of real, tangible, right-now cuts.

Thanks to Vic for pointing that out.

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posted by Ace at 01:58 PM

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