NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Coming Up: A Budget Busting Budget

November 16, 1999

Despite assurances from President Clinton and congressional Republicans, the federal budget now emerging from negotiation will dip into Social Security funds for more than $17 billion, analysts are reporting. And spending will be at least $31 billion more than permitted under legal limits that Congress itself set under the 1997 budget agreement.

To mask the over-the-top figures, the parties involved are using a series of "assumptions" that reduces on paper the amount of spending that is counted at the government's bottom line, according to reports. So far, Congress has instructed the Congressional Budget Office to make adjustments totaling $19.3 billion.

They are:

  • Using White House estimates, Congress assumes the Defense Department will spend more slowly than expected and that part of the spending will be pushed into the following year -- for a "savings" of $9.7 billion.
  • Congress is adjusting its books to reflect the hope that money will, again, be spent more slowly for a "savings" of another $3 billion.
  • While the CBO doubts that scheduled sales of broadcast spectrum rights will be completed in fiscal 2000, Congress is assuming they will and is including $2.6 billion.
  • In a break with past practices, spending on emergencies will not be included until funds are actually released by the president -- allowing for another $1.6 billion assumption.

By CBO's reckoning, discretionary spending will total $611.4 billion -- well above the $579.8 billion permitted under the 1997 agreement.

To make up the difference, CBO says the spending approved by Congress will eat up the $14.4 billion surplus projected this year aside from Social Security, and consume $17.2 billion of the $147 billion surplus created by Social Security.

Sources: "Letter to Speaker J. Dennis Hastert" and "Discretionary Spending Caps, Deficits, And The Social Security Trust Funds," both October 28, 1999, Congressional Budget Office, Washington, D.C.; William M. Welch, "Add It Up: Social Security Surplus Is Getting Tapped," USA Today, November 16, 1999.


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