This is not a post about House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan's (R-WI) exercise and diet program. It is, however, a post about how he's planning to produce a budget that gets to balance in 10 years without actually balancing anything.
What Ryan is proposing is the fiscal equivalent of him saying that he wants to lose 20 pounds but isn't going to counting the fat around his midsection to achieve it.
For weeks the budget and political worlds have been buzzing about how Ryan was going to be able to keep his pledge to bring a plan to the House floor that would balance the budget in 10 years without raising taxes. That's a substantial task even after the already enacted revenue increases in the fiscal cliff deal and the $85 billion in sequester spending cuts, both of which Ryan has said he will include in his plan. It requires significant and politically very sensitive reductions in Medicare, Medicaid and probably Social Security.
We now know how Ryan's planning to do it: by balancing the budget without counting interest on the national debt. In economic terms, that's called bringing the budget into "primary balance."
It was 1994 and Rep. John Kasich (R-OH), the soon-to-be-named chairman of the House Budget Committee for the just-elected GOP majority, was telling anyone and everyone who would invite him to speak that he didn't care if President Clinton submitted a budget for the coming year because House Republicans were going to ignore it. Kasich didn't use the standard "dead-on-arrival" line, he simply said that nothing Clinton proposed would be of interest because it would be "irrelevant."
Fast forward almost 20 years. The Obama fiscal 2014 budget proposal, which technically was required to be sent to Congress by February 4, now is not expected to be released until late March or even early April. That will make it irrelevant to the House and Senate Budget Committees, which are set to markup their respective versions of the fiscal 2014 budget next week, that is, two weeks or more before the White House's proposal will be available. The president's plan also won't be released before the full House and Senate are expected to debate and vote on what the budget committees produce.
Anyone who thinks H.R. 325 -- the No Budget No Pay law that House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) wants everyone to believe will do so much and be so important -- will, in fact, make any difference is both falling for Boehner's spin and doesn't understand how the congressional budget process really works.
According to the Congressional Budget Act, a "budget" is not really a budget until the House and Senate agree on a congressional budget resolution conference report, that is, each house has to adopt its own budget and then compromise with the other on a joint agreement. The House- or Senate-passed budget resolution means nothing and neither that house nor Congress as a whole is obligated to follow it.
But the text of H.R. 325 makes it clear that the budget included in No Budget No Pay is not a budget resolution conference report:
When I was much younger, I helped start a monthly breakfast meeting for a handful of inside-the-beltway budget wonks.