This is the WashingtonWatch.com email newsletter for the week of February 1, 2016. Subscribe (free!) here.
This is the WashingtonWatch.com email newsletter for the week of February 1, 2016. Subscribe (free!) here.
The first Monday in February is a very special day. It’s the day that the president produces his proposed budget for the following fiscal year, and it marks the beginning of a rich, annual pageant that ends with the mid-summer passage of spending bills for all the federal agencies.
If you’ve been paying attention, you know how little of that is true.
In fact, more often than not, the Obama Administration has been late producing the budget. That kicks off a process that’s not exactly a pageant. And Congress very often fails to budget and set spending priorities before the start of the next fiscal year.
Are we beginning that sloppy process again? Looks like it.
President Obama will not release the budget today. The director of the Office of Management and Budget announced on Twitter in early January that the budget will come out on February 9th.
That’s been fairly common in the Obama years. With the latest tardy budget, it will be six out of eight budgets introduced late.
|Budget Year||Due Date||Date Issued|
|FY 2010||February 2, 2009||February 26, 2009|
|FY 2011||February 1, 2010||February 1, 2010|
|FY 2012||February 7, 2011||February 14, 2011|
|FY 2013||February 6, 2012||February 13, 2012|
|FY 2014||February 4, 2013||April 10, 2013|
|FY 2015||February 3, 2014||March 4, 2014|
|FY 2016||February 2, 2015||February 2, 2015|
|FY 2017||February 1, 2016||February 9?|
Congress is responsible for its own failings, of course. It could run the spending process on time whether or not the president produced a budget on the due date.
But Congress and the president are both in the same boat politically. They both know that the press and the people don’t follow this stuff very carefully. A late budget travels under the radar. Being late with the spending bills—or not producing some of them at all—doesn’t make much news. And at the end of the process, a big omnibus bill filled with nonsense does things that nobody knows about until it’s too late. That is not a very democratic process, and at that point people get angry.
What should you do about this particular situation? Like always, making noise about what you care about raises your influence. Write a letter to the president and tell your friends about it. Write a letter to your congressman and senators, and tell your friends about it. Write a letter to the editor. Tell your friends about it.
If you’re like most politically aware people, though, you’re focusing on the Democratic and Republican primaries. You’re focusing on the personalities and the controversy. You don’t even feel that hand in your pocket.
But when you and others like you start raising the alarm about sloppy, non-transparent budgeting, things will start to change. So make some noise, and tell your friends about it. Until you do, you’ll continue to be disappointed by budget day.
This is the WashingtonWatch.com email newsletter for the week of January 25, 2016. Subscribe (free!) here.
It’s hard enough to gather what’s going on in Congress without Congress standing in your way. But they do. And one way they do that is by warping the budget information that gets shared with the public.
A case in point is “baseline budgeting.” That’s when Congress requires agencies like the Congressional Budget Office to assume that spending on a given program will rise. Changes in spending are then compared to the rising baseline.
Under baseline budgeting, an increase in spending above the baseline looks smaller. And if Congress reduces the rate of growth in a program that’s still growing, it will by reported as a cut.
Here’s an example: H.R. 677 is the American Heroes COLA Act of 2015. The bill would modify several Veterans Administration programs, and it also includes a cost cost-of-living adjustment, or “COLA,” to amounts paid to veterans and their survivors.
A law called the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act requires baseline budgeting in this area, so the Congressional Budget Office officially reports that the bill would produce about $6 billion in new spending, or about $42 per U.S. family. But CBO doesn’t report another $573 in spending per family.
H.R. 677 costs about $615 per U.S. family, not $42. (The bill includes no revenue measures, so its passage would raise the national debt by that same amount.) We don’t think rising baseline budgeting gives you an honest account of spending, so we add back in the money that Congress requires the CBO to leave out (when we know about it).
Now that you have a better idea of what the bill costs, you are a little better positioned to decide what you think of it. Many of our veterans and their families have sacrificed nobly for our country. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that they have an open tap on your wallet. Should they get another $600 of your family’s money? Something less? More? Or maybe there’s another way to think about how we take care of the nation’s veterans.
Here’s the current vote on H.R. 677, the American Heroes COLA Act of 2015. Click to vote, comment, learn more, or edit the wiki article on the bill.
This is the WashingtonWatch.com digest for the week of January 18, 2016. Subscribe (free!) here.
So let’s take a look at the top ten list of bills getting the most attention on the web site we like to call “the government’s version of WashingtonWatch.com.”
We’ll layer in cost information and the current votes of WashingtonWatch.com’s visitors. Click to vote, comment, learn more, and edit the wiki articles on the bills.
#10 S. 264, The Federal Reserve Transparency Act of 2015 – no cost estimate yet
#9 Public Law 114-94, The Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act – costs $499.77 per U.S. family and decreases their $183,461.82 share of the national debt by $573.72
#8 H.R. 1002, The Mortgage Forgiveness Tax Relief Act of 2015 – no cost estimate yet
#7 Public Law 114-95, The Every Child Achieves Act of 2015 – costs $777.39 per U.S. family and increases their $183,461.82 share of the national debt by the same amount
#6 S. 2232, The Federal Reserve Transparency Act of 2015 – no cost estimate yet
#5 H.R. 3799, The Hearing Protection Act of 2015 – no cost estimate yet
#4 Public Law 114-113, The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016 – costs $11,236.54 per U.S. family and increases their $183,461.82 share of the national debt by the same amount
#3 H. Res. 569, Condemning violence, bigotry, and hateful rhetoric towards Muslims in the United States – no cost estimate yet
#2 H.R. 4269, The Assault Weapons Ban of 2015 – no cost estimate yet
#1 Public Law 114-74, The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 – saves $85.48 per U.S. family and decreases their $183,461.82 share of the national debt by $570.01
This is the WashingtonWatch.com email newsletter for the week of January 11, 2016. Subscribe (free!) here.
… or at least that’s how it will be while there is a Democratic president.
That’s the lesson of last week’s veto of H.R. 3762, The Restoring Americans’ Healthcare Freedom Reconciliation Act of 2015. The bill would have repealed key provisions of Obamacare, as well as stripping federal funding from Planned Parenthood.
Republicans have been mighty persistent—Democrats would say maniacal—in their efforts to repeal Obamacare. Almost two years ago, the House had already voted to repeal or alter it some 54 times.
Now, for the first time, the House and Senate have both approved a repeal. That was the recently vetoed reconciliation bill.
That persistence on the part of Obamacare’s opponents can pay off, but it’s 100% clear now that it only happens if only there’s a Republican president.
But a political cross-current may swamp the plans for Obamacare repeal, and that cross-current has a name: Donald Trump.
The Donald is the most popular presidential candidate among Republicans, and he’s the bane of other, more traditional candidates. Many people like his unpolished, tell-it-like-it-is style, even when he’s telling it like it isn’t.
But there’s one thing he almost certainly isn’t, and that’s electable.
That same brash style that makes him popular with some people makes him really unpopular with others. His high negatives mean that if he gets the nod as the Republican candidate, the Democrat wins. And Obamacare stays.
Is Obamacare here to stay? It’s looking good right now.
This is the WashingtonWatch.com email newsletter for the week of January 4, 2016. Subscribe (free!) here.
There are a couple of ways Congress could start its second session. (The 114th Congress’s first session was last year. This year will be its second session.) It could start slow, taking some time to let people filter in from their holidays. Or it could come in hot.
And the winner is … HOT!
The agenda for the coming week includes partisan bills that should produce sharp debate. These bills are not about making friends. They’re about taking shots.
Let’s take a look:
H.R. 3762 is the Restoring Americans’ Healthcare Freedom Reconciliation Act of 2015. As we wrote last October when the House first passed it, the bill seeks to turn the tables on Obamacare. It would undo big chunks of the president’s signature health care law the same way Congress got it passed six years ago. A version of it has passed the Senate, and now it’s back in the house.
H.R. 1155 is known as the SCRUB Act of 2015. That’s short for “Searching for and Cutting Regulations that are Unnecessarily Burdensome.” This is what Democrats will characterize as a direct shot aimed at the heart of the regulatory state, which delivers health, safety, and lots of other good things. That’s not the way Republicans see it; they think all these regulations are harming the business sector and our innovative economy.
H.R. 712 is a similarly partisan bill with a different flavor. The Sunshine for Regulatory Decrees and Settlements Act of 2015 would undercut a common practice among some federal agencies, which is to charge someone with a violation and come up with a settlement at the same time. In some cases, the settlement involves requiring the company to do things that the agency couldn’t ordinarily require, like setting up a fund or donating funds to an organization or charity. That kind of thing moves money around in ways that Congress hasn’t directly authorized. Is the bill bringing regulatory agencies under control? Or is it an attempt to hamstring their efforts to protect the public?
Finally, there’s H.R. 1927, the Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act of 2015. You can bet that what Republicans think of as “fairness” is something that Democrats see as cutting off lawyers’ ability to protect the public by suing wrongdoers.
So there you have it! The Republican House leadership is feeling sassy! And they’re going to start off 2016 with some feisty floor fights this coming week.
Here are the current votes on all these bills. Click to vote, comment, learn more, or edit the wiki articles on the bills.