Baseline Basics

The CBO just released its analysis of the debt ceiling extension and deficit reduction plan that the House of Representatives is considering. We have been clear in our opposition to this bill, and the President explained why last night.

While we disagree with the approach that Speaker Boehner chose to take in this bill, there is one thing that we all still agree on, and that is the size of the problem. Both the House Republican budget proposal unveiled by Congressman Ryan on April 5 and the President’s fiscal framework that he introduced on April 13, set as our goal deficit reduction of $4 trillion. Since both of these plans were introduced before the agreement on appropriations for FY 2011, the baseline used for them did not reflect the spending cuts enacted this year in that legislation. Indeed, throughout our weeks of talks, all parties have worked off a January baseline because we all recognized that we needed to start from the same place.

That is why it would be confusing to judge the current proposal’s savings from the “adjusted March 2011 baseline” which CBO released in May. Conveniently, CBO notes the January baseline numbers in its analysis, and pegs the savings from the Boehner plan at $1.1 trillion. Furthermore, an additional adjustment was also assumed in the talks for the projected costs of Pell Grants under a special Congressional rule. That adjustment brings the savings up to $1.2 trillion. 

Don’t get me wrong: there is a lot in Speaker Boehner’s plan that we do not like and actively oppose. But, as this debate continues and intensifies in the coming days, it’s important that we compare apples to apples, and make sure that we are all understanding the facts.

Jack Lew is the Director of the Office of Management and Budget


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