Political Animal


March 29, 2013 10:31 AM What To Expect When Obama Releases His Budget

By Ed Kilgore

So the official release-date for the president’s FY 2014 budget is April 10. You can expect to hear lots of GOP yammering about the budget being “two months late,” which is more than a little meaningless since the document has no force of law and no inherent impact on actual taxing and spending, particularly at a time when the odds of an actual congressional budget resolution are virtually nil.

But what will get the most attention from across the partisan and ideological spectrum is how this document deals with “mandatory spending,” i.e., the entitlement programs. Insofar as Obama’s budget will incorporate the guts of the “grand bargain” he has been offering Republicans for much of the last two years, it will probably include proposals to constrain long-term spending on Medicare and perhaps Social Security. On the former topic, you can expect the president’s budget to contain long-range estimates of Obamacare’s capacity to “bend the curve” of health-care costs, as reflected in reduced projections of spending on Obamacare subsidies, Medicaid and Medicare. Republicans will attack these estimates as loudly and as often as is humanly possible.

But the budget will likely also include additional “entitlement reforms” like a switch to a “chained CPI” method of calculating cost-of-living adjustments for Social Security (and perhaps government employee salaries and pensions), which would slowly and surely reduce benefits in the far out-years, and maybe even some additional means-testing measures for Social Security and/or Medicare. Much as such proposals will be greeted with modest joy by Beltway deficit hawks (who will nonetheless press Obama to be even “bolder” on this front), they will be savaged from two directions: by Democrats who deplore any “surrender” on mandatory spending, and from Republicans who will be eager to minimize their significance particularly as a justification for the revenue increases the president will again ask for as part of any “grand bargain.”

It’s not easy to decide how seriously we should take the firestorm that will break out before, on and after April 10. On the one hand, this is all Kabuki, since there will be no real budget agreement, much less a “grand bargain.” On the other hand, the positioning of the two parties on the major elements of fiscal policy, with all the economic and social freight they carry, going into the 2014 and 2016 elections is indeed a big deal.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Andrew on March 29, 2013 10:45 AM:

    Consider me one of the Democrats deploring any surrender on mandatory spending. Until our severe wealth and income inequalities are addressed, they shouldn't be touched. Shared sacrifice indeed!

  • Steve LaBonne on March 29, 2013 10:48 AM:

    This will be a totally gratuitous shot in the party's own foot going into the 2014 election. I'll be waiting to hear the new set of creative excuses from the folks who reflexively defend everything Obama does.

  • Gandalf on March 29, 2013 10:51 AM:

    Steve LaBonne-Are you kidding?The theing hasn't even been released yet. Talk about reflex action.

  • T2 on March 29, 2013 11:08 AM:

    Firstly and lastly, it is not the job of a President to present a budget. That is the job of Congress. A President enacts the budget passed by Congress. That is the point Ed refers to in his first paragraph. It serves as apolitical tool, nothing less or more. Given the state of the House of Reps, I seriously wonder why Obama even bothers.

  • c u n d gulag on March 29, 2013 11:08 AM:

    Yeah, let's at least wait until he releases it before we start criticizing him.

    THEN, if warranted, we can criticize him all we want.

  • Steve LaBonne on March 29, 2013 11:13 AM:

    Same comments I always hear when it's widely reported that Obama is about to do something objectionable. Then he actually does it, and a new set of excuses appears. Lather, rinse, repeat.

    (Also, it amuses me that some people think you should complain about something impending only after it actually happens, when of course there is no longer any hope of doing anything about it. Might want to rethink that one a bit.)

  • Josef K on March 29, 2013 11:21 AM:

    Remind me, why does the country need a "Grand Bargain" again?

  • Mimikatz on March 29, 2013 11:32 AM:

    This is obviously a trial balloon, and it is our duty, if we oppose it, to try to shoot it down. After it is released complaints are much less effective.

    The way to cut Social Security benefits for people who really don't need them is to RAISE MARGINAL TAX RATES on the rich, even more than already happened. Or close their loopholes. But for God's sake don't lower benefits for the people who need them, which is most SS recipients. I can't believe the Dems are talking about this, throwing away their credibility as proyectors of SS, while they leave tax rates for the wealthy so low. Several studies echo what I have been saying for years, a great deal of our current income inequality is due to tax policy, especially the low rates on investment income. Tax the rich, leave SS alooooone!

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on March 29, 2013 11:40 AM:

    Thanks for clarifying, T2.

    I thought I was just an ill-informed civics dumbass for thinking that it's Congress's job to present a budget.

    Obama's awfully considerate to offer his proposal though. Were I he, I would tell the GOTea to eat crap and regurgitate their own budget plan. Really, it's just another opportunity for the GOTea to wax most windy for the CSPAN cameras about how EE-VEEL Obama is.

    Be that as it may. I don't know shit about shit, anyway. On to the next Kabuki theater production...

  • iyoumeweus on March 29, 2013 3:59 PM:

    I am 75 years old. I know the so called ‘chain COL’ and these austerity programs will cost my wife and me some hardship, my wife, even more after I am gone. We are not willing to accept our reduced status since we know ‘sacrifice is for suckers’. Our elected seem to ‘love’ sacrifice so let us join together and ask them to make a few once shown the way perhaps we would be more willing. Here are a few suggestions our elected and appointed government officials could sacrifice and have some of their “skin in the game’:
    1. Have their own cost of living adjustments also calculated based upon the chain COL
    2. Raise the amount of ‘out of pocket’ payments for their own pensions and healthcare, thereby reducing the tax payers share
    3. Either allow the government to negotiate directly with Medicare D providers or pay the same amount for their meds as Medicare recipients pay
    4. Let them reduce their pay by the same amount Federal Worker’s pay is to be reduced
    5. Give former Presidents their pension $200,000 plus $100,000 for expenses, and ten years of Secret Service protection. Cut all of this is half for former Vice Presidents.
    6. Once an elected official leaves office, all of their unused campaign contributions will go into a For the People Fund
    Please add your own.

  • a new yorker on March 29, 2013 4:14 PM:

    I might swallow the CPI business and even additional means testing to Medicare if I thought they were necessary. But as long as we're still cool with the carried-interest deducation that lets Romney pay a lower tax rate than I do, as long as we're cool with major corporations not only paying no tax but getting hundreds of millions in return, as long as we're cool taking from people whose average income is somewhere around $19K so that we can called it shared sacrifice, even though they're the only ones doing the sacrificing--well, it makes me sick.

    No point in going after Obama. We've known for a long time where he stands on this and about his bizarre fixation on this so-called grand bargain. The way to fight this is to have the backs of Democrats in Congress and to remind them that Republicans will use this to run against them in 2014 and 2016, as they used the bogus Medicare "cuts" against Obama. This will be a Democratic proposal, and the Repubs will shove in the knife with all their might. Obama has to know that this will not get through the Senate--period.

  • gdb on March 29, 2013 4:31 PM:

    No point in going after BHO who is Blue Dog Dem on economics-- and part of the budgetary mess due to political timerity AND lack of understanding of Keynesian economics.. Better than Mittens or Ryan-- A Filmore or Buchanan or Chamberlain .. No Lincoln or Churchill or FDR. He's not going to change. Progressives need to start looking for an articulate Progressive to rally behind for 2016. And it ain't Hillary. At present, I'd suggest Brian Schweitzer-- former Gov of Montana.

  • schtick on March 29, 2013 4:40 PM:

    And the rich are getting richer and paying less taxes because we haven't sacrificed enough.

  • zandru on March 30, 2013 5:41 PM:

    I'm with Andrew with regard to "shared sacrifice."

    In my humble opinion, there should be NO cuts that would hurt the most vulnerable, whether old, poor, handicapped, whatever, UNTIL the folks and corporations at the top of the income scale are taxed well outside of their comfort zones.

    I mean, really - what sense does it make to hurt those who are already hurting? When fatcats like Romney and the real Republican base (the top 1% of the top 1%) are making out like bandits, largely due to federal government policies?

    This is a no-brainer. Let's keep reminding our elected representatives.

  • zandru on March 30, 2013 5:47 PM:

    " We are not willing to accept our reduced status since we know ‘sacrifice is for suckers’. "

    This is worth emphasizing. Right now, the Repubs have been playing on the idea, very common in the midwest (aka "Heart Land"), that it's important to work together and everyone gives up a little. Sacrifice is virtuous.

    They need to be reminded, once again as Andrew noted, that this only applies to SHARED SACRIFICE. And in this case, it's the poor and middle class who are quite literally suffering to enable the ultra-rich to get even ultra-richer. That ain't how the game is played.