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Entries Tagged as 'budget'

A Budget Plan for the Political Center

David Frum September 19th, 2011 at 8:43 am 91 Comments

The President has raised the curtain on his deficit reduction plan. Now the issue between the two parties is squarely joined.

On one side, the GOP, pledged to the Ryan plan, the most radical redefinition of government from the right since 1964.

On the other side, the President, offering the sharpest left turn since Teddy Kennedy’s challenge to Jimmy Carter in 1980.

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The Right and Wrong Ways to Cut Defense Spending

August 4th, 2011 at 6:01 pm 39 Comments

CNN’s Fareed Zakaria has a column today arguing for defense cuts and lauding the budget deal’s “sword of Damocles” over the Pentagon budget.

Zakaria argues that the U.S. military should not be exempt from budget scrutiny and, in that sense, his argument is unobjectionable.  But he ignores the fact that, since Obama became president, the U.S. military has suffered some $439 billion in cuts, including $78 billion in “efficiency measures” designed to root out administrative waste.

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Deal Will Come, but May Disappoint

July 13th, 2011 at 2:22 pm 41 Comments

Confusion usually reigns in Washington, D.C., negotiations just before a solution emerges.

Thus, small signs can signal big things to come.

As Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke concluded his testimony Wednesday morning before the House Financial Services Committee, Committee Chairman Spencer Bacchus made an interesting and perhaps important comment.  In short, Chairman Bacchus said that members of his committee and many members of his party understood the difference between raising tax rates and closing tax loopholes.

Chairman Bacchus hardly qualifies as a RINO nor is he considered a renegade Republican.  His remarks, therefore, may well hint that the many senior members of the House Republican caucus are beginning both to tire of the ideological rigidity of some of their “Tea Party” members and to believe that it is time to stop playing games with the debt limit negotiations. In recognition of the coming reality of a debt ceiling increase failure,  Rep. Steve King of Iowa introduced a bill today in the House that would require payment of the sovereign debt, military pay and pensions above all other payments that might be owed by the federal government.  Thus, King acknowledges that failure to raise the debt ceiling would lead to utter chaos within the government and would have catastrophic impact on United States military activities oveseas. Soon, we will see similar bills to protect Social Security, education, Medicare, and so on and so on.  CYA is in full throat.

Clever  legislation announced yesterday by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell  would essentially empower a President to raise the federal debt limit himself, subject to a two-thirds vote to the contrary by Congress.  One begins to sense the uneasiness of Congressional Republican leadership and even among many GOP backbenchers as the real results of debt default becomes clearer to them. McConnell’s gambit, as one would expect from a consummate Congressional leader, does the most important thing that the GOP needs right now–to change the trend of the debate.

As we have said often before, when the face of the Republican Party on debt negotiations is Rep. Michele Bachmann, Rep. Eric Cantor, Sen. Pat Toomey or Sen. Jim DeMint, the party loses ground in the public relations battle.  “Hell no, we won’t go” over time becomes a losing message.  McConnell has said, “Yes, raise the debt limit, let’s dispose of all this Congressional-Presidential hostage-taking, and bring some stability to paying the nation’s bills.”  McConnell’s suggestion avoids direct confrontation over spending versus taxes–it begins to change the subject.

We smell a deal in the works.  It will be small, it will be disappointing to those of us who fear the fiscal future of the nation, but it will get the debt ceiling increased.  The fact that it will be relative trivial will be,  in the short run, of little moment.  Market participants, who expect nothing useful from Congress in most fiscal matters, can breathe a sigh of relief that their financial engineering will be safe for another 6, 12, or 18 months.  The debt default question evaporates until 2013.  American debt as the “best house in a terrible neighborhood” will continue to be a safe haven while turmoil throughout the rest of the world continues.

Then in the midst of the most anemic economic recovery in America’s post-World War II history, Congress can revert to political manuevering and the American people can safely revert to concern over whether or not they or their neighbors will have jobs later this year.

The true dis-connect between both parties in Congress and the fundamental concerns of  Americans in the work force will increase.  Anger will continue to mount, demagogues will flourish, our national debt will increase, and loss of faith in America’s governance will expand.  This cannot end well.

America’s Debt Bill Comes Due

David Frum June 9th, 2011 at 10:37 am 32 Comments

Politicians are jockeying for position as the bill comes due on our gaping national debt. As I explain in my latest column for The Week without an agreement soon, we’ll all be stuck with the check.

As everybody knows, the country faces a huge mismatch between its obligations and its projected income. One way or another, the disparity will have to be resolved. That reckoning will inevitably lead to the disappointment of some people’s expectations. But whose?

That’s the fight that has been underway for two years.

President Obama’s 2009 stimulus plan attempted to protect the expectations of state and local government employees by funding state governments to avoid budget cuts. Then the stimulus funds ran out… and the layoffs began. Now state and local governments are feeling the shock of adjustment, with probably more shocks to come.

The December 2010 battle over the extension of the Bush tax cuts was a battle over the expectations of taxpayers, especially upper-income taxpayers. They got a two-year stay of execution — with a threat from the president to return to the issue in the 2012 election year.

Paul Ryan’s budget opens a huge, angry front in the battle over future expectations.

People under 55 would progressively receive less and less generous retirement benefits in the years to come. People who rely heavily on tax deductions and tax credits would pay more taxes. Meanwhile, people with large incomes would not only escape the burden of adjustment, but actually emerge ahead of the game. Or anyway — they will try to.

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GOP Rallies Support For Budget Reform

June 8th, 2011 at 4:08 pm 16 Comments

Republicans in Congress have begun to force talks on budget process reform, help starting with instituting a two-year (biennial) budget, hospital instead of the present annual budget system.

The idea first emerged a couple of decades ago when then Senate Budget Committee Chairman Pete Domenici and present House Rules Committee Chairman David Drier co-chaired a Congressional task force on budget reform.  The two pushed almost every Congress for the two-year idea, but faced consistent opposition from Appropriations Committee members in both chambers.

As the years have passed, however, more and more analysts and policymakers have urged re-consideration of the plan.

Proponents of the idea argue two major points:

1) The present annual system allows almost no room for oversight by either the Appropriations or Authorizing committees;

2) Congress finds it impossible to ever do its annual appropriations on time under the present system, leading to catchall bills that leave almost no time for serious consideration by members who aren’t on the Appropriations Committees.

Of course, appropriations staff and some members still oppose the idea.  Their arguments pale in the face of the failures of the committees to follow regular order almost ever during the past decade.

But, for the sake of fairness, here are the two arguments appropriation opponents of biennial budgeting make.

1) Two-year budgets would not give the Congress the ability to react with immediacy to changing circumstances;

2) Such a change would lead to more multi-thousand page Continuing Resolutions hitting the floors of the two chambers.

The proponents have an historical advantage on the arguments.

Since the passage of the 1974 Budget Act, the power of the authorizing committees has dwindled.  While Budget Resolutions and Appropriations Acts can get to the Senate floor either by statute or by necessity, literally dozens of critical re-authorizations in areas like military spending, housing, transportation, and education never get floor action during an entire Congress.

Therefore, the critical oversight aspect of the authorizing committees correspondingly has wilted.  Policy-making has migrated to appropriations bills, Senate rules notwithstanding; and appropriations bills have morphed into huge, multi-policy monsters that almost never get any reading in full by anyone.

Dreier has 38 co-sponsors and a similar measure has 31 sponsors in the Senate.

The two-year budget reform is long overdue. It surely isn’t a cure-all for the dysfunction that now baffles the Legislative Branch.  But one hopes that when Congress concocts this year’s debt ceiling increase package, biennial budgeting will be part of it.

Pawlenty’s Growth Rate: Too Good To Be True

June 8th, 2011 at 10:33 am 32 Comments

In his economic policy address Tuesday in Chicago, healing Tim Pawlenty set a goal of 5% economic growth. By setting out such a rosy projection he may be repeating one of President Obama’s biggest mistakes: promising voters targets he can’t reach.

Pawlenty’s always struck me as a reasonable candidate. Even though it’s unlikely he’ll beat Obama (can anybody?), view he’s also unlikely to hurt Republican candidates down ballot (as opposed to some of the more colorful GOP presidential contenders). That’s why I was disappointed by his economic speech in Chicago. I understand that he has to pay lip service to various segments of the Republican base; I just wish he didn’t so far in doing so. In the speech’s vaguer sections I wished he were more specific. But whenever he actually went into specifics, I instantly wished he had remained vague.  That’s never a good sign.

In his address, Pawlenty started off well, but strangely missed a chance to make his indictment of Obama’s economy even stronger by mentioning a serious chronic unemployment problem rather than just the overall high level of unemployment. He then made a major unforced error by setting a 5% economic growth goal. Why not 6%? Why not 10%? If you are going to dream, dream big!

Pawlenty himself acknowledged that neither the Reagan boom nor the Clinton boom actually produced sustained 5% growth, although both came close. It sounds a bit arrogant when he asserts that he can do better than Reagan. More importantly, it sets him up for serious political problems in the future. Obama is in more trouble than necessary right now precisely because he claimed that his stimulus would allow the unemployment rate to climb to only 8% instead of 10% – which it rose to anyway. Why emulate him?

Furthermore, it’s likely Democrats will attack the 5% target as impossible, Pawlenty will be forced to defend it, it will become his signature issue, and then, if he actually wins, he’ll spend his reelection campaign in 2016 trying to explain why the economy only grew at 3% (if he’s lucky!) rather than the promised 5%.

More importantly, does Pawlenty actually know how to do it and can he sell the recipe to voters? He offered very ambitious tax cuts (once again trying to outdo Reagan by lowering the top marginal tax rate to an even lower level than Reagan did). Only in the first four years of the existence of the personal income tax was the top marginal rate even lower than the one Pawlenty has proposed: 25%. He has also proposed a big cut in corporate taxes and elimination of the inheritance tax and taxes on capital gains and dividends. I have absolutely no objection in principle to any of these ideas. But I have two questions.

1) How do we know these tax cuts will in fact trigger a much higher growth rate? The 25% rate was in effect in 1925 – 1931, and the economic record of that period is rather mixed, to put it charitably. Most of the Reagan boom occurred at a time of the 50% top marginal tax rate (in effect 1982 – 1986), while the further reduction to 28% in 1988 was in fact soon followed by an economic slowdown and a shallow recession.

2) How will a huge reduction in tax revenues be offset? Pawlenty didn’t offer any new taxes on consumption (say, VAT or carbon tax) to go along with his elimination or reduction of taxes on investment and work. And nobody outside the Tea Party is going to buy the myth that tax cuts pay for themselves (especially given that in the case of complete elimination of investment taxes that argument can’t be made with a straight face).

But maybe Pawlenty has a plan for huge spending cuts, making tax revenue offsets unnecessary? Well, this brings me to the most depressing part of the speech. Apart from mentioning block-granting Medicaid to the states and raising the Social Security retirement age, Pawlenty was very vague on spending cuts. That isn’t necessarily bad, since spending cuts are unpopular, and it may not be a good idea to give one’s opponents material for attack ads. But Pawlenty also fully embraced the pernicious idea of the balanced-budget amendment.

Furthermore, he proposed “that Congress grant the President the temporary and emergency authority to freeze spending at current levels, and impound up to 5% of federal spending until such time as the budget is balanced.” Besides the questionable constitutionality of this idea, just how on earth is he going to freeze spending at current levels? 10,000 baby boomers apply for Social Security and Medicare every day. As the cost of their benefits is rapidly increasing, a real spending freeze would mean deep cuts elsewhere to offset the benefits costs.

Where exactly would those cuts happen and why can’t we just go straight to those cuts without all this gimmickry? Or does Gov. Pawlenty mean to freeze spending on everything other than retirement and healthcare (and, of course, national debt service and a couple other items)? In this case, he sounded a lot like Monty Python: “All right, but apart from sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh-water system and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?”

That proposal was immediately followed by a bizarre claim: “As an example — cutting just 1% of overall federal spending for 6 consecutive years — would balance the federal budget by 2017.” Actually, the deficit is not 6% of the federal budget – it’s about 40% this year. Granted, economic growth will reduce the deficit a lot – but not that much. Besides the immediate political problems now, Pawlenty’s claim that he can balance the budget by 2017 will surely come back to haunt him if he wins and then runs for reelection amid reduced but still huge deficits.

His comments on regulations made good points. But it’s a little misleading to say that “federal regulations will cost our economy $1.75 trillion this year alone” without providing any breakdown. I would bet that the bulk of these costs come from just a handful of regulatory areas – clean air, clean water, food safety, drug safety and transportation safety. There’s no political support whatsoever for, say, allowing factories to dump toxic waste into rivers again. So Pawlenty needs to be careful about realistic economic effects from feasible deregulation. Just as with his 5% growth target, it is better to under promise and over deliver than the other way around.

His thoughts on trade and money bordered on incoherent – a fine example of trying to offer something to everyone, without any regard for internal consistency. Pawlenty promised to double exports – but he also wants a strong dollar. Even worse, these contradictory statements were separated by only three sentences. If you have to contradict yourself, at least give your listeners more time to forget your first statement!

Pawlenty also strongly opposed quantitative easing and implied that the Fed printed money “with reckless abandon”. This isn’t junt an unwarranted slander, but also very short-sighted rhetoric. If Pawlenty becomes president, it will be because the economy in late 2012 was still very bad. And, we may still face a danger of deflation in 2013, perhaps forcing President Pawlenty to print money “with reckless abandon.”

Gov. Pawlenty also said that “Inflation cruelly undermines the life savings — and life prospects of every American.” Actually right now the life prospects of millions of Americans are cruelly undermined by deflation – deflation in housing prices. Maybe Gov. Pawlenty knows a lot of people who keep their life savings in the form of cash in a mattress, but most Americans have most of their life savings in assets that are fully inflation-protected – houses and stocks (in 401(k) portfolios). Furthermore, Americans currently carry a lot of debt (this, in fact, is the primary reason for the mess we are in). A little inflation right now could be quite beneficial to most middle class Americans.

Gov. Pawlenty needs to develop a better economic platform and tell hard truths to the Republican base. And when he absolutely has to pander, he needs to learn to do that without compromising either his appeal in the general election or his ability to govern if elected. His speech showed he still has a way to go.

T-Paw Needs More Than Google to Cut Deficit

June 8th, 2011 at 8:09 am 9 Comments

I like Tim Pawlenty’s economic plan a little better than David Frum. Although they aren’t revolutionary, pharm I’m happy to cheer for most of his ideas on the revenue front including lower corporate taxes (although it would be better to eliminate them entirely), illness a zero capital gains tax, and the adaptation of a nearly flat tax on personal incomes.  That said, T-Paw’s ideas for true cutbacks in government are awfully vague. One that’s been singled out for a lot of criticism is his proposal for a so-called “Google test.” The test, essentially, is the idea the government shouldn’t provide any service that can be found through Google. And it was a target of leftwing blogs from the moment he proposed it.  In fact, however, what Pawlenty calls the “Google test” is a good, sensible idea although hardly a panacea for government spending.

Let’s start with some history: What the former Minnesota governor calls the Google test actually began as a “Yellow Pages Test” proposed in the early 1990s by then-Indianapolis mayor Stephen Goldsmith. The idea of the test—which proved quite successful in Indianapolis—was that the government shouldn’t have to compete with the private sector for any service where multiple private sector firms were listed in the Yellow Pages.

Indianapolis’ government didn’t shed many services altogether but it did contract out everything from laying concrete to picking up litter. Government workers weren’t immediately laid off but, instead, had to compete with private sector contractors to keep their jobs. (Goldsmith called this “marketizing” services.) Because of competition, many services improved although a few, like sewage treatment, did run into trouble. Big tax cuts didn’t follow either. The city mostly used the accumulated savings for efforts to improve its infrastructure and subsidize corporations to bring more jobs into the city.

Although the results haven’t been as dramatic as they were in Indianapolis, Goldsmith has used his post-elected-office years to remake city services in the District of Columbia (where he became close to Mayor Anthony Williams) and now, as New York City’s Deputy Mayor for Operations. The federal government would do well to take another dose of the “marketization/yellow pages test/google test” medicine. There are any number of services that might, in theory, be done better by private contractors. That said, the idea is hardly revolutionary: the federal government already does a lot of contracting out, the savings likely won’t be large, and some efforts at “marketizing” that improve services tend not to save money.

To begin with, the federal government has long made very heavy use of contractors to do just about everything. Even with the enormous growth of government under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, the federal government employs fewer people than it did in the late 1960s. Although there are plenty of overweight behemoths in the federal bureaucracy, some very important entities like the Social Security Administration are actually very efficient at administering programs in part because they contract out so much. (This doesn’t of course mean, that the programs themselves are efficient.) And incredibly sophisticated tasks ranging from operating the Space Shuttle to running the Transportation Security Agency’s back office have been handed over to private contractors.

Second, large savings aren’t possible from simply marketizing federal services.  The Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid programs (the later two almost entirely administered and delivered in the private sector) can all be cut but simply changing the way they are delivered likely won’t save a penny.  While some more military and foreign affairs functions might be contracted out, furthermore, operating the armed forces is clearly a job that should remain in the hands of professional military and foreign service officers accountable to civilians.  In the end, the only areas even appropriate for “marketization” are in the field of domestic discretionary spending and, however, one counts it, that’s less than 20 percent of the federal budget.

Not all efforts will save money either. The United Kingdom, for example, has dramatically improved the quality and frequency of rail service by handing the operation of almost all rails off to the private sector.  But, at the same time, public spending on rail service has actually increased.  The Department of Veterans Affairs Hospital system, likewise, consistently delivers care less expensively than the private sector. Everything that’s known indicates that privatizing it without changing the benefits it provides would dramatically expand federal spending.

In short, Tim Pawlenty’s “google test” is a pretty good idea. But it’s not likely to save lots of taxpayer money or significantly cut the size and scope of government.

GOP Now Owns the Debt Crisis

June 1st, 2011 at 5:26 pm 50 Comments

The House of Representatives overwhelmingly defeated the motion to pass a “clean” increase in the United States’ federal debt limit last night.  No surprise, sovaldi right?

But one or two gems emerge from what analysts have called nothing more than a publicity stunt.

First and foremost, mind about 60 per cent of Democrats voted in favor of a clean (unamended) debt increase.  This means that they supported what is officially and formally President Obama’s position and the stance of Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner.  These Democrats came primarily from safe districts, but their support could ultimately put House Republicans in an uncomfortable position come August 2.

Why?  Because the House must pass or not pass the debt increase.  The House is controlled by the Republicans.  Thus any negative fallout from the debt battle will be laid at the feet of Republicans.  House Democrats have already revealed a “responsible” position with a majority voting aye.

The second gem is the revelation that a growing number of House Republicans are beginning to think very seriously about the consequences of the debt increase vote.

Two scenarios have been discussed most prominently.  One, which I will call the “Toomey Plan,” merely says this—vote against a debt ceiling increase, force the Treasury to pay the debt on time and in full, and then see where Treasury will find the tens of billions of dollars needed each month to keep total government debt below $14.3 trillion.  Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania first pushed this notion.

For members who have defense or non-defense employees in their districts (in other words, almost everyone in Congress) the Toomey Plan would lead to the cuts of hundreds of thousands of jobs, shutdown of most government agencies, and a whole host of problems.

A second scenario though may win out.  This scenario involves a relatively small “down payment” in the form of $1 trillion or so in savings over the next decade, coupled with a strong enforcement mechanism that forces further savings in the future.  So far, the “SAVE-GO” proposal pushed by the Bipartisan Policy Center (of which I am a member) has received good responses publicly and on the Hill.  A combination of compelled future savings and the down payment may be enough to get House passage.

I have heard the argument that if the debt ceiling fails, with the consequences of large job losses and disruption of essential government services, President Obama will get the blame.  Those of us who went through the 1995-96 government shutdowns know better.  We watched on television as President Clinton took the oath in January 1997, for his second term as President after he turned the shutdowns on us.

With the Obama/Geithner “clean bill” request, and a majority of House Democrats supporting it, the entire credit or blame for passage or failure of a debt increase will fall squarely on the House Republicans.

To my Republican friends still on Congressional staff who argue with me, I simply say, “Well, are you willing to risk your boss’s career on that?”


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GOP Running Out of Time to Win Debt Fight

June 1st, 2011 at 8:46 am 40 Comments

The clean debt limit vote has predictably failed. Of course, it wasn’t the best conceivable option.  A debt ceiling increase coupled with serious long-term spending reform would be preferable. However it may now be the least difficult of all realistically remaining options. For all of the GOP’s talk about tying the debt vote to spending cuts or entitlement reform, is there really time to accomplish that?

There are no more than two months remaining until the debt ceiling has to be raised, and even before that a serious market downturn may precipitate a quick increase. Reforming Medicare on a tight deadline is just not a good idea. Such major legislation shouldn’t be rushed, and if it does get rushed, the result may end up being even worse than doing nothing.

In the end, the GOP has only itself to blame for not getting a good outcome. To govern is to choose, and the Republican Party seems to be more interested in campaigning than in governing. It refused to put forward any coherent platform before last year’s election, so it wasn’t a surprise to anybody when House Republicans waltzed into their new majority status without any well-defined set of goals and priorities.

Had Republicans clearly prioritized long-term spending cuts, they could have offered a deal to Harry Reid and president Obama in early January whereby they would agree to pass a reasonable budget for the remainder of FY2011 (along with a debt ceiling increase sufficient to run the government until the start of the new fiscal year in October) in exchange for $20 billion in immediate cuts (not affecting Harry Reid’s beloved cowboy poetry festival funding) and, most importantly, a firm commitment to start serious bipartisan work on entitlement reform in February. They also could have given assurances that passage of such reform would facilitate the subsequent smooth passage of FY2012 budget.

Instead, House Republicans failed to prioritize the long-term over the short-term and wasted a lot of legislative time funding the government in two- and three-week increments.  They only achieved very modest budget cuts and didn’t address any long-term structural problems. Unfortunately, that was actually the most productive use of time in the House. The rest was totally, completely wasted on symbolic actions designed to please some (not even all) segments of the Republican base while driving away independents and setting a confrontational tone in Washington (thus making it harder to accomplish anything, given that the Democrats still control the Senate and the White House).

Congressional Republicans voted to repeal Obamacare – without offering any alternative. They conducted hearings on NPR funding – measuring in the mere millions at a time of trillion dollar deficits. They voted for the Ryan Plan – a charade that can be called a “budget” only in some alternative universe in which a 2.8% unemployment rate is actually attainable and sustainable. Besides everything else, the overly enthusiastic embrace of the Ryan Plan makes it much harder for Republicans to negotiate Medicare reform.

Still, maybe it isn’t too late to negotiate an increase in eligibility age for Medicare and/or Social Security. But time is running out.


Budget Ahead for Disaster Relief

May 31st, 2011 at 1:41 pm 16 Comments

Eric Cantor is right to insist that disaster relief payments to Missouri and other tornado-damaged locales be offset with cuts elsewhere in the budget. Helping people in times of disaster is an important government function and there’s surely enough waste somewhere in the budget to pay for whatever Missouri needs. But one-time offsets aren’t enough: Congress should do what it should have done more than two centuries ago and create a permanent honest-to-god trust fund to pay for disaster relief on an ongoing basis.

Let’s start with the facts: contrary to some libertarian fantasies, ambulance the federal government has, doctor always played a major role in disaster relief. In fact, ailment President Thomas Jefferson signed the first disaster relief legislation, the 1803 Congressional Act intended to help fire-damaged Portsmouth New Hampshire, into law. Every other Congress from that point on has authorized some sort of disaster relief legislation. Whatever the merits of getting the federal government entirely out of the disaster relief business the federal government—and national governments everywhere—have always provided for citizens following disasters.  They ought to.

Since we know disasters will happen (and likely increase in number as population grows into more disaster prone areas) it makes no sense to rely on ad hoc appropriations to fund them. Although there is an informal entity colloquially known as the “Disaster Relief Fund” it’s a purely administrative creation with no authorization in statute and no meaningful funding beyond what Congress gives it on an ad hoc basis. While President Obama took a half-honest step by including an “allowance” for disaster relief in his most recent budget proposal, he didn’t go the whole way and actually ask Congress to pre-appropriate funds to cover disasters. (This made all budget numbers look slightly better.)

Since disaster spending will happen, Congress should simply appropriate a given sum each year based on a ten year rolling average of disaster spending (perhaps excluding mega-disasters like Hurricane Katrina) and count the money as “spent” from the moment it goes into the disaster fund. To protect the fund from fiscal tricks, furthermore, a special board of trustees with a mix of federal and state officials should oversee the fund and sign off on disbursements requested by the President.  The very biggest disasters would and should continue to require special appropriations but with a fund, the nation could deal with most disasters without requiring special appropriations, last minute program cuts, or budgetary tricks. Federal disaster relief is necessary. Congress should be honest about how the nation pays for it.