Earlier this week, Alex posted on the first Senate budget in four years. I have little to add to his criticism. The Democrats claim it continues the good work of the last two years — you know, the flat spending that they have continually claimed is going to ruin the economy and that their budget undoes. Remember that last point: our economy is supposed to be falling into ruin right now because of the payroll tax hike and the sequester. We have yet to see post-sequester numbers, but February saw solid gains in jobs and consumer spending. If the economy continues to move, it will be solid evidence that “austerity”, such as it is, is not necessarily ruinous.
But even liberals, if they are honest, have to be disappointed with this budget. In contrasting it against Ryan’s budget, which I’ll get to in a moment, Ezra Klein notes:
But even given that difference in objective, Murray’s budget is deeply, even excessively, respectful of existing institutions. If the problem of Ryan’s budget is that it wants to do far too much, the problem with Murray’s budget is that it is almost entirely devoted to saying what it won’t do, and it gets very vague when the topic turns to what it will.
If the budget is vague about what it would change, it is specific and effusive about what it will keep. A tremendous amount of the budget document is, in fact, an appreciation of what the federal government is already doing.
About all we really know of this budget is the top lines: It plans $975 billion in tax increases, though it doesn’t say precisely how it will get there, and it plans $975 billion in spending cuts, though it doesn’t say precisely where they will come from.
So Ryan’s budget is preferable, right? Well, not exactly. It keeps all of the Obamacare tax hikes. It proposes tax reform but, again, is not specific in how it is going to cut rates without getting rid of cherished deductions (probably because it can’t). It relies on the CBO’s very optimistic growth projections to keep revenue up.
Most importantly, it also punts on the most important issues. Medicare reform is put off for ten years. Social Security reform is not mentioned. Making the math work requires heavy reductions in discretionary spending which are not the cause of our budget woes.
It also relies on two things that are simply not going to happen under this President: a repeal of Obamacare and huge reduction in tax rates. Look, I can appreciate that the Republicans are trying to contrast their vision against the Presidents. But a plan that has no chance of passing — and only works if those undoable things are done — is not really a serious plan.
These are steps in the right direction. We seem to be returning to a budget process rather than a self-created series of bullshit crises. So I’m hoping a bargain can be struck. But a real bargain — a Simpson-Bowles style one — has to rely on something that is in neither plan: near term reform of both Social Security and Medicare. Until that’s on the tabls, we’re just chipping away at the problem and hoping an economic boom allows to paste over the deficiencies.
Update: Of course, when it comes to bullshit budget plans, no one does it better than the Congressional Regressive Caucus, whose plan was praised by Paul Krugman today. It calls for an immediate 6% spending hike which they claim will bring us back to full employment within a year.
Yeah, ‘cuz that worked so well last time.