To a lot of people, the budget can seem dry or wonky, and a lot of time it doesn’t get the attention that other major legislation does. But the truth is that as heavy on numbers and figures as it is, it’s a profoundly moral document, it’s a blueprint for the nation’s priorities.
The overview for the proposed budget released by the President today is as good an example of that as you could find. For just a few examples: It sets aside more than $630 billion over ten years as a down payment towards fundamental health care reform. It makes permanent the $800 "Making Work Pay" tax cut for working families. It begins a comprehensive transformation of our energy supply by committing to a cap-and-trade system to be worked out in conjunction with Congress. The President has made clear he believes all of these issues are intertwined, so addressing these issues together represents a new comprehensive vision for the country’s future.
All of that said, the budget is no free lunch. It makes hard decisions, eliminating hundreds of billions of dollars over the years in waste and inefficiencies in the health care system, asking those making more than $250,000 per year to chip in a little more. And as OMB Director Peter Orszag explained in a press conference with CEA Chair Christina Romer this morning, this budget proposal abandons reams of budget gimmickry practiced in previous years to hide true costs:
"All told we are showing $2.7 trillion in costs in this budget that were excluded from previous budgets and I think that is a mark of the honesty and responsibility contained in this document."
One of the things Orszag was known for at his last position in the Congressional Budget Office was his ability and commitment to explaining the details of budget evaluations in a straightforward way, whether that was in a Congressional hearing or on his CBO blog. He’s showing his continued commitment on that front today by launching his own blog and the newly redesigned OMB site. He has his first post up walking through the context and the outlook on the budget -- it’s worth reading in full, here’s his take on the health care provisions in the budget:
Reforming health care. At the President’s direction, we have begun the process of doing a line-by-line review of the Budget. One of the lines we’ve started with is among the most important to the budget and to many other aspects of our economy: health care.
As I have long said, health care is the key to our nation’s fiscal future – and there are substantial efficiency improvements that are possible to deliver better results at lower costs in the health system. In the Recovery Act and in this Budget, we begin to make the investments necessary to bring about these efficiencies over the long-term—such electronic health records and comparative effectiveness research—and also identify more immediate saving measures to slow the growth of Medicare and Medicaid spending. These savings are devoted to a health reserve fund, which will be available as we work through the legislative process on health care reform this year. This proposal is a starting point, not an ending point, for health reform as additional resources will be needed to improve and expand health care for all Americans.
Orszag also talked on video to us about why he thinks blogging is so worthwhile: