No balanced budget in fiscal cliff talks 

Posted: 8:08 pm Tuesday, December 11th, 2012

By Jamie Dupree

There are two words that for many years played a major part of the tax and budget debate in Washington, D.C. which are now no longer uttered on a regular basis in the halls of Congress. 

What has gone out of style? A “balanced budget.”

That was the buzz phrase for many years – in both parties – especially as Congressional Republicans and President Bill Clinton tangled over the budget after the 1994 Republican Revolution.

But after the GOP Congress did away with budget caps in the Bush Administration, and the government grew after the September 11 attacks, the numbers went the wrong way on the budget, and talk of a balanced budget faded away.

Now, the new political phrase is “balanced approach,” which the White House has used to make the case that tax increases are needed, along with budget cuts, to rein in the growing budget deficit.

But nobody talks much in public about actually balancing the budget anymore – even the much ballyhooed budget from Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) didn’t envision a surplus in the next ten years.

While these figures may not dovetail with a final offers made on the fiscal cliff, here is the deficit estimates if President Obama’s 2012 budget plan was implemented:

2013 – $900 billion
2014 – $670 billion
2015 – $610 billion
2016 – $650 billion
2017 – $610 billion
2018 – $580 billion
2019 – $630 billion
2020 – $660 billion
2021 – $680 billion
2022 – $700 billion

As you can see, even with extra revenue raised by allowing tax rates to go up on the top income earners in America, the budget doesn’t come close to being balanced.

Now what about Republicans? Let’s use the Ryan budget, that has been championed by House GOP leaders. Here are the budget deficits under that plan:

2013 – $800 billion
2014 – $500 billion
2015 – $300 billion
2016 – $240 billion
2017 – $180 billion
2018 – $170 billion
2019 – $210 billion
2020 – $230 billion
2021 – $220 billion
2022 – $290 billion

Obviously, that is much less in new debt than what the President’s budget envisions, but it still doesn’t bring the budget to actual balance.

And it means neither side has a plan on the table that would balance the budget for the first time since 1997-2001, when there were four straight years of budget surplus in the second term of the Clinton Administration.

“You could accept everything in the President’s proposal,” said former Congressional Budget Office chief Rudy Penner, “and you could accept everything in Speaker Boehner’s proposal, and you would not solve the budget problem.”

“In my judgment, you need about twice what they have put on the table,” Penner added at a Washington symposium about the fiscal cliff.

So, when people ask me why the debt limit needs to be increased, I simply remind them that both parties envision a future where more debt will be accumulated by Uncle Sam, less if the GOP plan is used and more if Democrats have their way.

It has been almost 18 years since the Senate, in March of 1995, fell one vote short of approving a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution, which would have sent it to the states for ratification.

That seems like ages ago, when reporters used to hear the words “balanced budget” over and over again.

Not anymore.