Year by Year

by Yuval Levin
A lot of the commentary about the president’s budget yesterday and today has had to do with the projections and assumptions it makes about the next decade, and that makes sense—the budget lays out the administration’s priorities and expectations. But it’s important to remember that our federal government budgets itself year by year, and in making next year’s budget it is not bound by this year’s budget. So to assess the administration’s proposal, one very crucial figure to look at is the effect their budget, if adopted, would have on the deficit in the year for which it would actually be the budget—that is, in 2012. You can find that figure on page 172 of the budget (table S-2, here). It shows that by the administration’s own calculations, the effect its own budget would have in 2012 would be to increase the deficit by $11 billion. In other words, the Obama budget says that if we pass the Obama budget then the deficit for 2012 will be $1.1 trillion but if we don’t pass it then the deficit would be $1.09 trillion.
They promise to reduce that deficit in subsequent years, of course, counting on future congresses (and perhaps future presidents) to make painful cuts this White House doesn’t want to make this coming year. But what they actually propose concretely to do next year would slightly increase rather than reduce the projected deficit. Contrast that with congressional Republicans who are proposing about $100 billion in spending reductions in the current budget year (2011) and will presumably propose more for 2012 and you get a clearer picture of the budget debate in Washington these days.