Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget

On the President's Spending Cuts....

Yesterday -- citing CRFB's work -- The Stephen Dinan of Washington Times wrote that President Obama, in his first year, was more successful than President Bush in getting his spending cuts enacted. Several administration officials, including President Obama himself, have repeated this fact. According to the article:

President Obama... [won] 60 percent of his proposed cuts... at least $6.9 billion of the $11.3 billion in discretionary spending cuts Mr. Obama proposed for the current fiscal year... By comparison, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget says Mr. Bush won 40 percent of his spending cuts in fiscal 2006 and won less than 15 percent of his proposed cuts for 2007 and 2008.

Soon after the article came out, OMB Director Orszag cited it in his blog, explaining that he was "proud of what we were able to accomplish in conjunction with the Congress, but it’s just a start." Senior Obama advisor David Axelrod also cited the article in a Washington Post piece. And yesterday evening, President Obama again cited this success in his address to the House Democratic Caucus retreat:

We reformed our defense spending to cut out waste and save taxpayers billions of dollars while keeping us safe. I don't know if you saw today, The Washington Times, not known for a big promoter of the Obama agenda, pointed out that we had succeeded where previous administrations had failed because of the work that was done here in this Congress to finally get serious on some of these spending cuts that had been talked about for years.

We are pleased that President Obama has been so successful in cutting wasteful spending. Although we are still crunching the numbers on our own analysis of President Obama's spending cuts, the 60 percent figure cited by the Times is consistent with our findings so far. In looking at some of the larger proposals outside of Defense, we found that (in dollar terms) roughly one third of proposed cuts were accepted:

[chart:1942]

But this statistic doesn't taken into account the defense bill -- which was passed after our last analysis and included some very large cuts. Eliminating the F-22 Raptor, alone, saved almost $3 billion (out of the $6.9 billion in total estimated savings).

We've also written, several times before, about how hard enacting any cuts is. According to the Times article:

Marc Goldwein, policy director at the Committee for a Responsible Budget, said President George H.W. Bush in 1992 proposed eliminating 246 small programs, but succeeded in getting only eight of them chopped. One of those successes was to end funds for the Constitutional Bicentennial Commission - an event that was completed five years earlier... Mr. Goldwein said the nature of the appropriations process means every program that gets federal money has a powerful backer somewhere.

So 60 percent is a good start. And we expect to see many of the unsuccessful cuts -- along with a whole host of new ones -- proposed again in the upcoming budget. Unfortunately, even as Congress accepted some of the President's cuts, it increased spending on other programs slated for elimination.

And despite the cuts, discretionary spending grew dramatically, last year, by 7.3% (when war costs are excluded). That type of growth rate is not sustainable. And while $6.9 billion in cuts is a good start, it is going to take a whole lot more than that to bring our federal debt under control.