News Release

Behind the Budget Battles: Probing Basic Assumptions


WASHINGTON — While the White House and Congress struggle over the federal budget, some policy analysts are questioning key assumptions in the debate. Sociologist Abby Scher and economist Jared Bernstein are available for interviews to discuss underlying issues:

“Since the late 1970s, Congress has directed more of the federal budget away from social investment,” Scher says. “The 1997 budget caps and current negotiations are only accelerating that trend. Corporations, meanwhile, will continue to receive their welfare payments in this budget.” Scher is co-editor of Dollars and Sense magazine.
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“In an ideal world, the debate over the federal budget would be an opportunity to rationally discuss national priorities,” said Bernstein, a labor economist at the Economic Policy Institute. “Even in less partisan times, it would be naive to hope for such an ideal scenario. But the contemporary budget debate occurring in Washington seems to me to be particularly distorted.”

Bernstein, a former deputy chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor, said Friday: “Both sides are trying to adhere to budget caps agreed upon in earlier years, when the Congress and the administration wanted to display their fiscal rectitude. But they don’t really want to lower spending, which is why they’re using every trick in the book (and some inventive new tricks) to appear to do so. The most egregious example is labeling spending for the 2000 Census (an obligation called for in the Constitution) as an ’emergency.’ When the debate hits this level of absurdity, we are as far from the aforementioned ideal as we can get.”

Bernstein added: “In my view, and polls suggest that many Americans agree, Congress and the administration should redefine ‘responsible budgeting.’ This doesn’t mean adhering to budget caps that have no economic rationale; it means spending the resources necessary to meet the challenges still facing us. Despite the booming economy, there are still 34.5 million poor persons in America, 13.5 million of whom are children, and 13.9 million of whom have incomes less than half the poverty line, meaning they live in dire conditions. We are still underinvested in public infrastructure, devoting an historically small share of our resources to both physical (roads, schools, airports) and human (education, training, and basic scientific research) capital investment. That these needs exist over a period of full employment, when GDP and private investment are growing apace, tells us that the private sector cannot be counted on to solve the problem. Instead of hiding behind false promises, the federal government should address these issues through the budget process.”

For more information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy: David Zupan, (541) 484-9167; Norman Solomon, (415) 663-9674

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