Is Obama’s budget DOA?

In yesterday’s Washington Post, Lori Montgomery did an excellent job laying out why Obama’s budget matters less this year than most.  But don’t let that fool you; it still matters, and matters a ton.

First, Congress has fewer than 150 staff in the House and Senate combined who review the president’s budget and put together the twelve FY 2015 appropriations bills.  That’s fewer people than put together just the DOD budget.  With that little manpower, only issues that are contentious or of interest to either the staff or Members get a thorough review.  That means about 85% of the president’s budget is likely to become law.

Two, the president’s budget provides a framework for most Democrats to support.  No one is going to support every element, but the overall theme of equality in the tax code could play well in contrast to the Republican theme of stop spending money and pay down our debts.

Third, by coupling tax reform with infrastructure investment President Obama is playing on two themes: The “haves” have too much, and, after years of austerity, it is time to invest in America.  Of course lost from the discussion will be the fact that without a budget resolution, tax changes will be nearly impossible to enact.  And it is the Senate, controlled by the Democrats, that is unlikely to act on the budget resolution this year.

Fourth, it matters because of what is not there: The budget does not mention entitlement reform.  This is the Achilles heel of all budgets put forward by the president’s party.  It is all well and good to discuss tax reform and investments that increase job growth.  But any serious discussion of fixing the long-term budget picture requires changes to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

While every word of the president’s budget will not become law, remember that budgets matter. In any organization, they lay out the framework and vision of the Chief Executive Officer moving forward.  The gauntlet is laid for the battle ahead.  We will know the winners of the first skirmishes in November.

Mark Harkins is a Senior Fellow at the Government Affairs Institute

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