WASHINGTON – If you have high blood pressure, do not read this “Budget and Economic Outlook” from the Congressional Budget Office.
The CBO regularly publishes its projections of what the federal budget deficit, debt, revenues and total spending will be in each fiscal year, and the following 10 years, if current laws governing taxes and spending remain unchanged.
Its latest report, dated Feb. 11, 2021, is CBO’s economic assessment based on the laws in effect as of Jan. 12.
“CBO projects a federal budget deficit of $2.3 trillion in 2021, nearly $900 billion less than the shortfall recorded in 2020. At 10.3% of gross domestic product (GDP), the deficit in 2021 would be the second largest since 1945, exceeded only by the 14.9% shortfall recorded last year,” the agency reports.
“Those deficits, which were already projected to be large by historical standards before the onset of the 2020-2021 coronavirus pandemic, have widened significantly as a result of the economic disruption caused by the pandemic and the enactment of legislation in response.”
There is also an interesting section in CBO’s report about “tax expenditures” – the deductions, exclusions and credits that, of course, reduce revenues, and, as CBO points out, “contribute to the budget deficit.”
In fact, it also makes clear that tax expenditures in the individual and corporate income tax systems “will total an estimated $1.8 trillion – or 8.2% of the gross domestic product – if their effects on payroll taxes and income taxes are included.”
What is missing from CBO’s report is where all of the tax revenues go, how all this money is spent, and how much of it is wasted by multiple bureaucracies, often on needless programs.
As a journalist in Washington for several decades, I have dug into hundreds of federal agencies and programs in at least five books that exposed how many of these bureaucracies are wasting taxpayers’ dollars on needless programs.
Among them are “Fat City: How Washington Wastes Your Taxes,” “Washington: City of Scandals” and my first book, “The Federal Rathole,” and other exposes for Reader’s Digest, the Washingtonian magazine and countless newspapers.
Actually, the title of my first book was suggested by numerous federal employees themselves who would repeatedly tell me that many of the programs in their departments and agencies were so wasteful, “it was like pouring money down a rathole.”
The Wall Street Journal, which liked the title, said in a review of the book, that “If the title of the book isn’t everything it could be, neither are the programs Mr. Lambro cites.”
But no one embraced “Fat City” more than President Ronald Reagan, who mentioned it in his speeches throughout his successful 1980 presidential campaign.
And at his first Cabinet meeting, he had a box full of the books brought in and passed out to everyone at the table. I have a photo of it on my office wall.
Meantime, here’s a modest suggestion for the Congressional Budget Office’s next report to Congress: a list of programs and agencies that need to be reexamined and cut back or abolished. In addition to pointing out Congress’ spending practices, CBO should offer some suggestions where needless and wasteful programs can be reduced in size, consolidated and maybe abolished.
After all, it is called the Congressional Budget Office and it tells Congress about the legislative branch’s spending practices.
And, while we’re at it, here’s one more suggestion for CBO.
At the bottom of its latest analysis and economic outlook for the coming year, they come up with analytical reforms that suggest ways Congress can slim down and consolidate its budget that is badly in need of pruning, cutting and shrinking.
But toward the end to its budget report to Congress, as it often does, CBO closes with this sentence: “In keeping with CBO’s mandate to provide objective, impartial analysis, this report makes no recommendations.”
Why not? If the CBO can suggest ways to shrink the size of the congressional budget, save the taxpayers a few billion dollars and make its operations more efficient and cost-effective, then why not make that an important part of its portfolio?