Yesterday, the New York Times reported that President Obama, in the budget he’s releasing next week, will not use “four accounting gimmicks that President George W. Bush used to make deficit projections look smaller.”
The changes: account for the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (“overseas military contingencies”) in the budget rather than through the use of “emergency” supplemental spending bills, assume the Alternative Minimum Tax will be indexed for inflation, account for the full costs of Medicare reimbursements, and anticipate the inevitable expenditures for natural disaster relief.
These changes would make the debt over ten years look $2.7 trillion larger than the distorted Bush baseline, but that debt was always there. It was just being hidden. President Bush’s budgets hid billions with elaborate budget gimmicks. They took war-spending off the books, tried to eliminate the costs of wildly expensive tax cuts for the wealthy, and claimed savings through unrealistic, unspecified future cuts in vital discretionary spending.
As Steve Benen wrote, “the smoke-and-mirrors approach to which we’ve grown accustomed was ridiculous. It was a problem policymakers recognized, but didn’t want to talk about, and had no interest in fixing. It’s not only heartening to see Obama bring some sanity to the process, it will also have key practical consequences — honest budgets lead to better policy making.”