Tuesday, April 9, 2013

What we do/don't know about President Obama's budget

Tomorrow President Obama will release his proposed budget. What? You thought he already had? No,  everyone from Speaker Boehner to lefty poutragers have rejected it before they've even seen it.

As I mentioned the other day, too many on the left are setting themselves up to do the same thing with this budget that they did with health care reform - get zeroed in on only one item (in health care reform it was the public option and this time its chained CPI) and not notice anything else.

So what should we be looking for tomorrow?

First of all, on the issue of chained CPI, we need to know the details of how President Obama plans to protect the most vulnerable. I personally don't take issue with those that are saying that using chained CPI isn't a great idea (President Obama agrees). But if we want to stay away from slippery slope arguments about it - we need to know the details of how it will affect people - especially those that are the most vulnerable.

What we know so far is that CBO has estimated that a fully implemented chained CPI would save approximately $220 billion in payments over 10 years and that President Obama's budget will likely come in at somewhere between $100-130 billion. That means that at least $90 billion in potential savings (almost half) will go to protecting the most vulnerable. That seems very significant to me - we'll know the details tomorrow.

What we also know is that the President's budget will contain funding for things like universal pre-K and the brain mapping project the White House talked about last week. This morning, we got another taste of what else might be included in an exclusive report by Sarah Kliff.
President Obama’s budget proposal will include $235 million in funding for new mental health programs, focused initiatives to help schools detect early warning signs and train thousands of new mental health professionals.
Pardon me for a moment while I highlight something about that funding that means alot to me because of the kind of work I do.
Another $25 million would be put towards helping schools, where violence is pervasive, to address the trauma experienced by children and test violence prevention strategies.
This is the kind of initiative that could begin to address the issues associated with children living in "deep poverty" that I've written about before.
Neuroscientists and developmental psychologists can now explain how early stress and trauma disrupt the healthy growth of the prefrontal cortex; how the absence of strong and supportive relationships with stable adults inhibits a child’s development of a crucial set of cognitive skills called executive functions...

When you cluster lots of children with impulse-control issues together in a single classroom, it becomes harder for teachers to teach and for students to learn. And when these same children reach adolescence...they are more likely to become a danger to themselves, to each other and to their community.
When we talk about the failure of our urban schools and the school-to-prison pipeline, these are exactly the kinds of issues we need to address...NOW!

So I'm wondering what more we'll learn when the President's budget is actually released tomorrow. I'll be paying attention to the reporters/commentators who help us fill in the details.

For all those who are consumed with thinking that President Obama is intent on buying into the austerity meme being promoted by the GOP, I'd suggest you couldn't be more wrong. What I'm seeing is a President that wants to have a conversation about our priorities. Michael Tomasky had an interesting thought about that today.
I think that while he [Obama] has reservations about chained CPI, he is willing to trade it for some of the priorities he laid out in his State of the Union address. Universal pre-K, for instance. In policy terms, there exists some inevitable trade-off in whether government will invest in the old or the young, and it wouldn’t shock me to know that on balance, Obama favors the young. That’s a debate liberals need to have and should be able to have without exchanging gunfire.
I don't agree with Tomasky that its about President Obama favoring the young. I just think that when we spend $7 on seniors for every $1 we spend on children, it might be time to take a look at that balance. I say that recognizing that the last thing I want to do is engage in gunfire about elderly vs young (after all, I'm a baby-boomer just a few years shy of retirement). Its simply time for us to think seriously about our commitment to children in this country - and how our investments are at odds with our rhetoric about their importance. I think that's a debate we need to have.


  1. What I do know is that one of the poutrage email lists got me yesterday, and I finally replied with "Unsubscribe me and piss off."

  2. "...CBO has estimated that a fully implemented chained CPI would save approximately $220 billion in payments over 10 years..."

    One little point you seemed to have missed. The CBO said "payments". The majority of those payments are paid by Scoial Secirity. Social Security payment affect neither the deficit or the debt, and therefore have no impact on the budget. SS is entirely paid by payroll deduction and is prevented by law from being paid from the general fund.

    1. The point you raise is accurate. I just don't see where I suggested or implied that SS payments are made from the general fund.

    2. I got the implication when you included the $220 million savings in the same sentence as the size of Obama's budget. By including the saving statement with the budget statement, you are implying that the savings can be applied to the budget. The reason to save money is to reduce the budget and therefore reduce the deficit and the debt. Reducing SS payments do neither and therefore should be separated from budget discussions.

    3. My reference was to the fact that leaks have indicated that what Obama will propose regarding chained CPI will only save $100-130 billion (as opposed to a fully implemented chained CPI saving $220 billion). I'm trying to make the case that his plan will do a lot to protect the most vulnerable from implementation of chained CPI. We don't have the details on how he'll do that yet. But the dollar amounts indicate it will be significant.

    4. OK, I now understand what you were saying. I am interested to see where the $100 - 130 billion will come from with Obama's implementation of chained-CPI.

  3. I think the COLA/CPI comes from the General Fund. Basic benefits come from the trust.So yes, if he slows the inflation rate to a CPI, then it will be less from the General Fund. That is my interpretation of how COLA is paid to Seniors. So when Bush gave us a $300 one time payment to make up for no COLA, that came out of the General Fund with his ta refund policies.

  4. The Bush one time payment came from the general fund because it was not part of SS. The one time payment when to SS recipients, because that is the way it was set up, not because it was part of SS. Normal cost of living increases are paid by SS.