Hot Button Time Machine: Dan Mitchell’s Budget Tips

Posted March 23, 2015 at 5:00am

With House and Senate Republicans readying the horses for trading in the hopes of taking a victory lap after reconciling their competing spending priorities, HOH elected to check in with keen political observers about what has to happen to salvage the perennially doomed budget negotiations from ultimate ruin.  

Approving a symbolic funding blueprint — it is non-binding, after all — and following through with the corresponding appropriations bills have over the past few decades largely become passé on Capitol Hill.  

Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., chairman of the House Budget Committee, concludes a news conference Monday in the Capitol Visitor Center. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

President Barack Obama enjoyed one year (2009, his first in office) of unified support for his budget, but since has seen congressional leaders pass the buck via highly politicized continuing resolutions or desperation-move omnibus bills.  

Dan Mitchell, a senior fellow at Cato Institute specializing in fiscal policy, would love to see that trend reversed.  

But that, he projects, will take time. “I think it is unrealistic to expect a ‘meaningful’ budget with divided government. The sides are too far apart,” he said of the current Oval-Office/under-the-Dome split.  

“That being said, there may be a counterproductive form of bipartisanship as spenders in both parties agitate to eviscerate the spending caps and replace sequestration with some gimmicky Ryan-Murray Part II package,” Mitchell suggested, throwing shade on polarizing efforts spearheaded by former budget committee chairs Rep. Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.  

Given his druthers, Mitchell said he’d prefer to have James C. Miller III, former director of the Office of Management and Budget, back in control of doling out federal dollars.  

“If you look at the spending numbers during his tenure, he did a good job,” Mitchell said of the Reagan administration aide he picked for our fantasy legislating draft.  

Assuming Miller chooses to sit out this next round of budget wrangling (as recently as 2012, the agenda-setting vet was advocating for a bundle of spending curbs dubbed the “One Cent Solution ”), Mitchell urged the current crop of politicos to cut the fat any which way they can.  

“Lawmakers should focus on nominal changes in outlays,” he proposed, citing the nip-tuck spending tweaks embraced over the past five years as fairly effective governing tools. “Restoring spending restraint for FY 2016 and beyond is very important.”