Still Waiting For The Budget Debate

Something frustrating both Your Humble Blogger and the Obama economic team is that the furious debating over continuing resolutions and the Fiscal Year 2011 appropriation is completely crowding out the actual debate about the federal budget deficit. That’s because no matter what congress does or doesn’t appropriate for FY 2011, we still need to do something about 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, etc. The Obama administration addressed all these years in its annual budget proposal and the White House is still awaiting a response from Republicans.

When it came out, their generally tendency was to complain that Obama’s proposals featured taxes that were too high and also a budget deficit that’s too low. So the natural question to ask is—what’s the alternative? And Republicans haven’t answered the question. The closest thing we have to an answer came from Paul Ryan’s budget roadmap, but his Social Security privatization plan would cause the deficit to go much higher than Obama’s proposal in the medium term. And the rest of the caucus hasn’t exactly leapt at the opportunity to embrace Ryan’s Social Security privatization or his Medicare privatization or the substantial post-privatization Medicare cuts he’s envisioning.

So the question is: What do they want? You can’t get the deficit lower than Obama’s target while extending the Bush tax cuts purely by defunding NPR. So is the plan to gut Medicare? I think the White House believes it has the most politically viable medium-term budget plan out there. But they can’t win a debate on the budget unless a debate on the budget happens. This is something the press ought to be pushing congressional Republicans on. Fiscal Year 2011 only lasts for a few more months. What happens next? What happened to the Ryan Roadmap? The focus on short-term shutdowns and debt ceiling votes ignores the real fiscal question.