House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) on Wednesday reiterated his commitment to presenting a budget that balances within ten years, and challenged President Obama and Senate Democrats to engage in an “honest” debate over the nation’s financial future.
During a briefing session on Capitol Hill, Ryan told reporters not to expect any big surprises in this year’s House Republican budget, even though unlike previous versions, this one will achieve balance within a decade. “It doesn’t take enormous changes in our budget to get there,” Ryan said. “We can show the country that this is an achievable goal.”
Doing so will require only “modest changes” to last year’s budget, Ryan said, after taking into account recent policy developments such as the fiscal-cliff deal (a $600 billion tax increase) and the implementation of further spending reductions under sequestration. Ryan laughed at the suggestion, put forward by Senate Budget Committee chairman Patty Murray (D., Wash.) in a recent memo to her colleagues, that the House budget would require nearly $5 trillion in additional deficit-reduction in order to reach balance.
Ryan, who plans to formally introduce the House budget next week, declined to go into specifics, but said the GOP conference was united and eager to initiate a long-awaited debate with the Democratic Senate, which has refused to pass a budget in nearly four years. “On the points of getting an agreement that . . . gets us on a path to balance, we are completely unified,” Ryan said. “On getting the president and the Senate Democrats to the table, in joining us in figuring out how to balance the budget, we are unified.”
Although no one expects President Obama or Senate Democrats to propose a balanced budget, the budget chairmen gave reporters a preview of the various tricks they are likely to employ in order to inflate their claims of deficit-reduction. “When you’re looking at a budget, you got to watch the gimmicks,” Ryan said. For example, the White House has tried in the past to claim credit for savings that have already been written into law, such as the spending caps imposed by the Budget Control Act of 2011, savings that cannot honestly be counted as new deficit-reduction.
Additionally, Democrats are likely to claim credit for “war savings,” money for military operations that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the nonpartisan agency tasked with scoring budget proposals, includes in its current-law baseline. Most of that money will never be spent, given Obama’s plans to withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014, but Democrats have frequently sought to take credit for saving “fake money,” as Ryan put it.
Similarly, the recently approved Hurricane Sandy relief package, totaling roughly $50 billion, is incorporated into the CBO baseline under the assumption that the government will continue to spend that much on disaster relief over the next decade. Democrats could claim savings by reducing that unrealistic figure, but it should not be counted as genuine deficit reduction.
The House budget will take a different approach. “We’re actually going to claim less spending reductions, because we’re going to claim the real spending reductions not the fake spending reductions,” Ryan said. “We’re not claiming gimmicks.”
Ryan, as he has done repeatedly over the years, lamented the lack of leadership from the White House. President Obama, who has yet to produce a budget that received a single vote in Congress, has once again missed the statutory deadline to submit a budget.
“I find it interesting that he’s chosen to blow the deadline again, not only by a week or two, which is what we’ve seen in the past, but for an indefinite period of time and waiting for others to lead first,” Ryan said. “The person in the White House ought to lead. That’s what presidents are supposed to do.”
Yet Ryan remains hopeful that debating the competing budgets through regular order will produce positive results for the country. “Our goal and hope here is not to pass a budget and forget about it. Our goal is to get a down payment on this problem for America,” he said. “The value of a Republican majority ought to be, at the very least, to help delay a debt crisis from hitting this country.”