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The Mid-Session Budget Review

It's sort of fun watching wonkish issues that most people know nothing about become major talking points when some operative somewhere sniffs an opportunity. Imagine my surprise, for instance, when last year's Democratic primary persuaded half the country to suddenly develop extremely strong feelings on whether we should include an individual mandate in health care. This was, for me, a much more enjoyable conversation than whether Hillary Clinton actually dodged bullets in Kosovo. I kept searching my room for a very tiny genie.

Another nice example came earlier this week, when the mid-session budget review suddenly became a big deal for conservatives. Budget expert Stan Collender, one of the half-dozen people in America who actually knows something about mid-session budget reviews, was not amused. But it did give him the opportunity for a nice rant:

The mid-session review of the budget is an OMB document that supposedly updates the budget the president submits earlier in the year. It's supposed to be released July 15, but the White House today officially let it be known that the report wouldn't be available until sometime in August.

The reaction to this announcement was so over-the-top that you would think it was an admission that waterboarding really was torture. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), who just before he issued his statement probably had to be reminded that there even was something called a mid-session review, said the delayed release was " attempt to hide a record-breaking deficit..." In another article he was quoted as saying the delay was because the administration wanted to "bury(ing) this budget update..."[...]

Here's the real story.

First, this is not news. Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag first publicly said in JUNE that the mid-session review wouldn't be released until August.

Second, this isn't news. In transition years like this one, when the president's budget is submitted after the first-Monday-in-February deadline and Congress starts working on the budget late as a result, mid-session budget reviews are often released after July 15. For example, when George W. Bush became president in 2001, the mid-session review was also released after the deadline.

Third, this isn't news. Mid-session budget reviews are often submitted after the deadline. Last year's mid-session review, for example, was sent to Congress on July 28 and the fiscal 2005 mid-session review was released on June 30.

Fourth, Boehner seems to have forgotten that this White House not only has done nothing to hide the deficit, it has gone out of its way to make the deficit as high as possible. The budget it submitted in February included a number of things that the Bush administration had omitted in its budgets including the full costs of this year's activities in Iraq and Afghanistan and funds to pay for natural disasters. The Obama budget also included $250 billion just in case a second financial bailout plan was needed.

I'll confess to being a bit puzzled by the theory here: It would be one thing if Obama canceled the mid-session review. That might actually hide an update to the deficit. But to delay it from 17 months before the next election to 15 months before the next election? It points towards a conspiracy so vast as to be entirely incomprehensible.

By Ezra Klein  |  July 22, 2009; 9:42 AM ET
Categories:  Budget  
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Some diseases don't cause the body to develop immune resistence to a second attack even after a raging outbreak. [see STDs]

After Clinton Derangement Syndrome (CDS) spread like wildfire through the ranks of the Republicans in the 90s, there might have been hope we would be immune to another round of that particular brain disorder.

Not to be.

Obama Derangement Syndrom is a more virulent form of CDS: it spreads easier, causes more hysterically extreme reactions in the GOP, and mysteriously evades examination and explanation in the media.

[see Birther Disease for the etiology.]

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | July 22, 2009 10:14 AM | Report abuse

I think the key point that Collender makes the sarcastic observation that Boehner had to be reminded that there was such a thing as a mid-session budget review. I wouldn't be surprised if that was actually true. I wouldn't be surprised if many Republicans and Democrats in Congress had to be reminded.

It's like the $23T number ( that Republicans and the media went crazy with. It was surface reading, and people just took what they are fed. Boehner probably had some staffer shove a piece of paper in his face, and the general incompetence led him to take it at value.

Posted by: smhjr1 | July 22, 2009 10:22 AM | Report abuse

I wouldn't have a problem with the delay if the White House was not arguing for an artibrary time line of passage of a federal budget deficit-related issue by the August recess.

I think we need the OMB analysis for more information before Congress passes extremely consequential budget-related legislation.

It seems now would be the time to pass non-budget related legislation and confirm Sonia Sotomayor prior to the OMB release. Then work on health care reform after.

Posted by: lancediverson | July 22, 2009 10:56 AM | Report abuse

I've wondered recently how Obama's decision to include the war funding in the budget affects the overall deficit picture. If he had continued to keep that stuff off budget (like Bush), how would things look differently? Is there a nice simple bar graph somewhere with this?

Posted by: jeirvine | July 22, 2009 1:06 PM | Report abuse

"Imagine my surprise, for instance, when last year's Democratic primary persuaded half the country to suddenly develop extremely strong feelings on whether we should include an individual mandate in health care."

Imagine my surprise when the side that won that argument just as suddenly STOPPED caring about it.

Posted by: tomtildrum | July 22, 2009 1:51 PM | Report abuse


Normally, I'd agree. But it can't have escaped your notice that the President has promised a health reform bill by the end of this month. Coincidentally, the bill took a major hit last week when the CBO said it wouldn't save us much in the short term as hoped (something you conceded elsewhere on the blog).

Meanwhile, polls show the public is backing away from Obamacare fast, with support below 50% in some polls. No doubt cost and worries about overspending are a major reason for this.

And if, as reported today, the President's argument on TV tonight will be premised on the idea that we must pass health care reform in order to continue the economic recovery we've begun, well then...

The connection is obvious. Not sure why you'd be so puzzled.

Posted by: captainhendry | July 22, 2009 4:47 PM | Report abuse

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