CBO cuts budget cuts down to real size

The Congressional Budget Office seal in Washington, D.C.

Kai Ryssdal: So to review, Republicans won the House last fall by promising to cut $100 billion from the budget. Problem was, the fiscal year had already started by the time they were sworn in, so they prorated it to $61 billion. Negotiations got that to almost $39 billion last Friday in the no-government-shutdown agreement. But even as that deal officially passed the House today, we learned the actual amount the government won't be spending is substantially smaller.

Our Washington bureau chief John Dimsdale takes it from there.


John Dimsdale: House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers began today's floor debate with a message for freshman Republican.

Harold Rogers: If you believe in cutting spending, you can vote for $40 billion of it today -- the largest any member of Congress has ever been able to vote for. This is historic.

But a CBO scoring of the budget deal finds actual savings this year are only $350 million -- less than 1 percent of historic. As word spread of the CBO's underwhelming sum, former CBO director Douglas Holtz-Eakin held a conference call to clear up what he called confusion in the press.

Douglas Holtz-Eakin: First, I think the most important thing is nothing has changed with regard to the budgetary scoring of this.

Holtz-Eakin says the money has to be divided up for salaries and contractors and programs. That takes time and CBO is only counting the savings between now and October.

Holtz-Eakin: It turns out the federal government does spending in much the way it does most things -- slowly and in the most complicated fashion possible.

He says we'll see $38 billion in savings, but over a number of years.

And for economist David Wyss, at Standard & Poor's, that's fine, since quick cuts would undermine the economic recovery anyway.

David Wyss: What's of concern is not this year. It's that you can't continue to borrow 10 percent of GDP every year without making ourselves look like Greece part two.

In Washington, I'm John Dimsdale for Marketplace.

About the author

As head of Marketplace’s Washington, D.C. bureau, John Dimsdale provides insightful commentary on the intersection of government and money for the entire Marketplace portfolio.

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