'Line' Items: Super Bowl Edition

Super Not So Duper – The word “super” has lost its luster lately. The failure of the Super Committee and the need for a super majority in the Senate to pass virtually anything have contributed to record-low approval ratings for Congress. Meanwhile, Super PACs are pouring unlimited funds into campaigns, resulting in even more negative advertising than usual and rising concerns that the political process is being distorted. We now pin our hopes on an event featuring a bunch of millionaires chasing each other up and down a field interspersed with high-priced commercials to restore the term to glory. But it will take more than Madonna at halftime to maintain our status as a super power. The fiscal decisions we make now will have much more impact on our global standing. Will debt be our Kryptonite?

President Punts in State of the Union – Those looking for a strong commitment from the President for addressing the national debt in last week’s State of the Union address (like us) were sorely disappointed. Instead, he concentrated on issues that will play well in an election year while making passing references to deficit reduction and reforming taxes, Social Security and healthcare. See our reaction here and here. We now look to the President’s FY 2013 budget request on February 13 for specifics on addressing the deficit. Next month the White House is also expected to detail its corporate tax reform ideas.

CBO to Lay Out Playbook – The football season may be ending, but budget season is just beginning. Ahead of the President’s budget, the eyes of budget wonks will be on the Congressional Budget Office on Wednesday as it rolls out its outlook for the economy and prognosticates how our budget will play out. Stay tuned to CRFB for post-game analysis shortly after the release.

Calling Plays on Budget Reform – With budget season gearing up, efforts to reform the budget process are getting lots of attention. The House Budget Committee marked up three budget process reform bills last week: to require CBO to include dynamic scoring of major legislation (HR 3582); to change how CBO calculates its budget baseline to remove the usual assumption that discretionary spending will increase with inflation (HR 3578); and to increase accountability and transparency in the budget by requiring fair value accounting for federal credit programs and including Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae in the budget (HR 3581). The dynamic scoring and baseline reform bills are set for votes on the House floor later this week. Meanwhile, the House Rules Committee approved of a measure to make the budget legally binding (HR 3575) and this week will take up bipartisan legislation to give the president enhanced rescission authority to effectively veto discretionary spending items in legislation passed by Congress. Additionally, a Rules subcommittee held a hearing on biennial budgeting, CRFB President Maya MacGuineas was among those testifying. Check out our resources on budget process reform.

Budget or Fudge It? – While many are asking if Peyton will be back, one of the questions in Washington is: Will Congress agree on a budget this year? The inability to set a budget or agree to appropriations on a timely basis is a key reason the public sees Washington as dysfunctional. Lawmakers aren’t blind to the matter; the House last week passed a nonbinding resolution expressing the importance of a budget resolution and Senate Budget Committee Chair Kent Conrad (D-ND) said his committee will take up a budget resolution this year.

Payroll Tax Conference Committee Kicks Off – The conference committee negotiating a longer-term extension of the two percent payroll tax holiday, Medicare doc fix, and unemployment benefits held its first hearing last week. The session consisted of committee members making statements that set the tone for a contentious month as negotiators hold diverging views on how the extensions should be financed. The next meeting on February 1 should be interesting as the committee starts to talk specifics. CRFB offered its own thoughts last week on what we would like to see from the conference committee.

Debt Ceiling Sidelined … for Now – The statutory debt ceiling was increased Friday, but it’s not hanging up its jersey. Although the Treasury Department is confident that it can prevent hitting the limit again before the election, another increase will likely be needed before the end of the year. Between the debt limit, the 2001/2003/2010 tax cuts expiring at the end of the year, and the sequester that everyone wants to avoid set to hit at the beginning of next year, it’s shaping up to be a December to remember. 

Pentagon Discusses Budget Cuts – Military leaders have been huddling for many months on cuts to the Pentagon budget. The strategy came into sharper focus last week as Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and other leaders offered a preview of what will be in next month’s budget request. Proposed savings include troop reductions and changes to military benefits. The reductions will not be readily accepted by many on Capitol Hill. The face off between defense hawks and budget hawks could make the Pats versus the Giants look tame.

Key Upcoming Dates (all times ET)

January 31, 2012

  • Congressional Budget Office (CBO) releases its 2012 Budget and Economic Outlook at 10 am.
  • Senate Banking Committee hearing on "Holding the CFPB Accountable: Review of First Semi-Annual Report" at 10 am.
  • Senate Finance Committee hearing on "Extenders and Tax Reform: Seeking Long-Term Solutions" at 10 am.
  • House Rules Committee marks up HR 3521 - the Expedited Legislative Veto and Rescissions Act - at 5 pm.
  • Florida Primary.

February 1, 2012

  • Congressional conference committee on extending the payroll tax holiday, Medicare doc fix, and unemployment benefits meets at 10 am.
  • House Budget Committee hearing on CBO Outlook with CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf at 10 am.
  • Senate Budget Committee hearing on "Outlook for the Eurozone" at 10 am.
  • House Rules Committee meets to formulate a rule for floor consideration of the Pro-Growth Budgeting Act and Baseline Reform Act at 3 pm.

February 2, 2012

  • House Budget Committee hearing on the US economy with Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke at 10 am.
  • Senate Budget Committee hearing on the CBO Outlook with CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf at 10 am.
  • House Education and Labor Committee hearing on "Examining the Challenges Facing PBGC and Defined Benefit Pension Plans" at 10 am.

February 3, 2012

  • Dept. of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics releases January 2012 employment data.

February 4, 2012

  • Nevada Caucus.

February 7, 2012

  • GOP presidential contests in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri.

February 13, 2012

  • The President will submit his FY 2013 budget request to Congress.

February 17, 2012

  • Dept. of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics releases January 2012 Consumer Price Index (CPI) data.

February 22, 2012

  • Arizona GOP debate sponsored by CNN at 8 pm.

February 28, 2012

  • GOP presidential contests in Arizona and Michigan.

February 29, 2012

  • The temporary payroll tax cut, unemployment insurance, and doc fix extensions will expire.
  • US Dept. of Commerce's Bureau of Economic Analysis releases its second estimate of 2011 fourth quarter GDP.

March 3, 2012

  • Washington Caucus

March 5, 2012

  • Reagan Library GOP debate sponsored by NBC (time TBD)

March 6, 2012

  • Super Tuesday - presidential contests in Alaska, Georgia, Idaho, Massachusetts, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Vermont and Virginia.

March 6-10, 2012

  • Wyoming Caucus

March 9, 2012

  • Dept. of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics releases February 2012 employment data.

March 10, 2012

  • Presidential contests in Kansas and the Virgin Islands

March 13, 2012

  • Presidential contests in Alabama, Mississippi, and Hawaii

March 16, 2012

  • Dept. of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics releases February 2012 Consumer Price Index (CPI) data.

March 17, 2012

  • Missouri Caucus

March 18, 2012

  • Puerto Rico primary

March 19, 2012

  • Oregon GOP Debate sponsored by PBS at 9 pm.