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Legislating at the Margins
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Press Release

Legislating at the Margins

Capitol Hill This Week…. Both sides of the Capitol continue to seek an exit strategy this week as the election looms three short weeks away. Hopes for adjourning sine die (for the year) have faded as a lame duck session has become all but inevitable. It is expected that both the House and Senate will consider a longer term Continuing Resolution (CR) this week. The past few resolutions have provided only a week of funding but this latest will probably take them through the elections until November 22nd. In the meantime, expectations for this week are low. The House only expects to take up the CR, and a possible tax bill this week. There are still some conference reports (Energy, Terrorism Re-insurance, Homeland Security) that may come up, but it is doubtful.

10/15/2002
A Legacy of Spending
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Press Release

A Legacy of Spending

With the Bush administration’s sights trained on Iraq, problems on the home front remain to be addressed. Wall Street is hitting 15-year lows, corporate scandals have jarred investor confidence, and a weak market has Americans worried about job security. In Washington, Congress continues its spending spree as members race to finalize spending bills before the November election. Surpluses are a thing of the past, with the federal deficit pushing $160 billion and counting. A recent poll found a majority of Americans have serious concerns about the U.S. economy and believe that heightened foreign policy concerns have come at the expense of sound economic policies here at home.

10/08/2002
New Report Card on State Governors
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Press Release

New Report Card on State Governors

Against the backdrop of the worst state budget crunch in years, this report presents the findings of Cato Institute’s sixth biennial fiscal policy report card on the nation’s governors. The report card’s grading is based on 17 objective measures of each governor’s fiscal performance. Governors who have cut taxes and spending the most receive the highest grades. Those who have increased spending and taxes the most receive the lowest grades.

10/07/2002
Latest Update from Capitol Hill
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Press Release

Latest Update from Capitol Hill

Just a quick note to provide everyone with a Congressional update. I would say legislative update but that would be a misnomer since there really is not that much legitimate legislation going on up on Capitol Hill.

10/04/2002
Tom Daschle’s Spectacular Budget Disappearing Act!
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Press Release

Tom Daschle’s Spectacular Budget Disappearing Act!

It’s not the Greatest Show on Earth, but the federal budget is definitely the most expensive circus in the world. All the more so this year, thanks to some nifty new tricks from ringleader Sen. Tom Daschle (D - S.D.). Every year, Congress is required to pass an overall plan for U.S. government spending, known as a budget resolution. The budget was due this year on April 15, 2002, and to meet this deadline, President Bush offered his budget plan last February. And the House of Representatives passed its budget in March.

09/25/2002
Decisions, Decisions
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Press Release

Decisions, Decisions

This Week – Both the House and Senate took Monday off for the observance of Yom Kippur. They expect to hit the ground running on Tuesday when the Senate resumes consideration of H.R. 5093, The Interior Appropriations Act. They will also continue to debate H.R. 5005, The Homeland Security Act, which the President has repeatedly asked for before the November elections. The House will consider legislation that would block states from restricting interest rates on rent-to-own transactions (H.R. 1701) and legislation to make the repeal of the estate tax permanent.

09/17/2002
Stand Down Mode
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Press Release

Stand Down Mode

The Republican staff director of the House Appropriations Committee announced on Monday that the House of Representatives was in a “stand down” mode. Congress is just over two weeks away from its scheduled final adjournment, and not one of the annual appropriations bills has been sent to the president. The Senate hasn’t even passed a budget resolution. And they are in a “stand down” mode?

09/17/2002
Like Monkeys With Darts
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Like Monkeys With Darts

BY Jason M. Thomas

When George W. Bush was sworn in as the 43rd president of the United States, the Congressional Budget Office [CBO] estimated the federal budget for fiscal 2002 would be in surplus by an eye-popping $405 billion. Last week, the CBO issued its latest estimate for 2002: a $157 billion deficit. In just more than 19 months in office, President Bush has overseen a $552 billion swing in the 2002 budget and an estimated $7 trillion deterioration of the federal government's 10-year fiscal outlook. Such a reversal of fortune is staggering and could be a political liability for the president's party in this November's midterm elections. Democrats have been quick to blame the Bush tax cut for the deficits, but according to the CBO figures, only $74 billion, or 13.5 percent of the accounting change is attributable to the tax cut. Increases in discretionary spending [14.1 percent] - some of it to finance military reprisals to the September 11 attacks - and the economic downturn [17.8 percent] both dwarfed the fiscal effect of the tax cut, as Republicans will be sure to point out on the campaign trail. But, as math majors have already discovered, the aforementioned economic and legislative developments account for less than 50 percent of the change in the overall budget. The biggest factor in the dramatic reassessment has been what the CBO calls "technical changes," completely unrelated to any federal policy. The CBO describes these changes as adjustments to economic and tax policy assumptions, which is a nice way of saying their estimates were just plain wrong. This should not be surprising. Budget estimates are exceedingly difficult to make, even for the next year. In addition to unreliable forecasts of economic activity, federal budget estimates must rely on speculation about how much tax revenue such activity can be expected to yield. Stock market observers often joke about how the average analysts' stock picks are no better than if a monkey were to throw darts at the newspaper's financial pages. To get a sense of the reliability of CBO estimates, spin the monkey three times beforehand. As John Barry of the Tax Foundation points out in a recent memo, the CBO's March 1997 prediction for the 2002 deficit was much more accurate [$188 billion] than the estimate made just last year. Mr. Barry argues, sensibly, that "federal deficit estimates are no basis for tax policy," as "margins of error of 50 percent or greater are typical." Voters should be wary when politicians treat speculative forecasts of volatile budgets as gospel. Instead, policymakers should use more reliable estimates and hard numbers whenever possible. For instance, when determining the appropriate level of taxation and spending, instead of looking to unreliable budget estimates lawmakers should consider the relationship between federal tax receipts and spending to gross domestic product [GDP]. President Bush's tax cut was not good policy because CBO calculations estimated a $5.4 trillion surplus over 10 years; it was good policy because federal tax receipts had grown to 20.3 percent of GDP, a peacetime record. It was this dramatic growth in taxes relative to the economy - not sound fiscal management as some would have us believe - that led to the budget surpluses of recent years. While it is true that a $290 billion deficit in 1992 was turned into a $236 billion budget surplus in 2000, federal spending grew more than 35 percent during that time and was only held that low because the 1995-96 conservative Republican majority was willing to shut down the government to keep growth below 2 percent for a single fiscal year. Budget estimates will never be abandoned because they can serve a useful purpose. The U.S. Treasury needs a sense of how much bonded debt it must issue to cover federal spending and can use deficit projections when deciding what type of debt to issue and how much to make available for auction. But in the hands of opportunistic politicians, budget projections can be a dangerous, albeit misleading, rhetorical weapon. The CBO does as good a job forecasting deficits and surpluses as any private or public economic research group in the country, but it would be nice if politicians included the same disclaimers as CBO when using its numbers. Of course, this will not happen until politicians eschew distortion as a political weapon, an outcome about as likely as this year's CBO forecast for the 2012 budget deficit. Jason M. Thomas is a staff economist at Citizens for a Sound Economy Foundation.

09/12/2002
A Tough Row to Hoe
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Press Release

A Tough Row to Hoe

This Week. Both the House and Senate resume legislative business this week after a month-long August recess. The Senate, which reconvened on Tuesday, will focus on legislation to create a Department of Homeland Security, S. 2452 and the 2003 Interior appropriations bill. The House, which does not begin work until today (9/4) has eight bills to be considered under suspension of the rules, a dam safety measure (HR 4727), a measure to make permanent various education tax breaks included in last year's big tax-cut package and motions to go conference on two spending bills. On Friday, both Houses will be conducting a special meeting in Federal Hall in New York, New York in remembrance of the victims and the heroes of September 11, 2001. A Tough Row to Hoe This will be a tough couple of weeks for legislators. Looming over them is the November 5th election currently only 8 short weeks away. Despite their best efforts to the contrary, any decision or legislation they undertake will be rife with the underlying politics. It is impossible to separate the two – with an almost evenly divided Senate and a single digit majority in the House – there is too much at stake.

09/04/2002
Monkeys With Darts
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Press Release

Monkeys With Darts

When George W. Bush was sworn in as the 43rd President of the United States the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that the federal budget for fiscal year 2002 would be in surplus by an eye-popping $405 billion. Last week, the CBO issued its latest estimate for 2002: a $157 billion deficit. In just over 19 months in office, President Bush has overseen a $552 billion swing in the 2002 budget and an estimated $7 trillion deterioration of the federal government’s 10-year fiscal outlook.

09/04/2002

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