Saturday, February 16, 2013

When $85 billion is Really Less than $10 billion

There's been lots of reporting and hyperventilating about the sequester, so imagine the sighs of relief that must have gone up when the Senate Democrats announced their replacement bill.  Of course, it being Congress (either House), the bill is not actually available in any public forum.  We do know the name of the bill - The American Family Economic Protection Act - but the text is not yet available.

This article at Business Insider seems to be the best summary of the bill I can find.  Let's review the bidding.  First, the sequester is expected to reduce spending by $85 billion this year (that's fiscal 2013) from what would otherwise be spent and therefore reduce the deficit by the same amount.  So how much does the AFEPA reduce the deficit this year?  Let's take the bill's provisions one by one.

1.  Defense

Defense cuts are not implemented until 2014 and are then simply capped at .5% lower than the caps that already exist in 2014 and beyond in the BCA.  So defense savings in 2013 are zero and deficit reduction in 2013 is zero.

2.  Agriculture

It gets a little bit harder here.  The bill summary claims it saves $27.5 billion net, $31 billion gross but doesn't say anything about two critical points - whether interest is included and when the additional spending happens.  So the best case is let's say 1/10 of $27.5 billion or $2.75 billion savings this year.  The worst case would assume interest savings are in the total and the new spending all happens this year (in my view the most likely case given Washington budget language) and the savings start in 2014.  In this case, the bill probably has savings about about -$3 billion this year, meaning it marginally increases the deficit.

3.  Buffet rule

The bill claims roughly $50 billion in savings from the Buffet rule.  Based on previous CBO scoring of the Buffet rule, this almost assuredly includes interest savings.  What is again unclear is what assumption is being made about implementation.  I've found things that say now and things that say 2014.  So best case here is about $5 billion in deficit reduction and worse case is zero.

4.  Other tax changes

They account for only $3 billion in total over 10 years so their one year impact is negligible in any event.

So in summary, the best case is that the bill reduces the deficit by about $8 billion this year.  The worse case is that it adds about $3 billion to the deficit this year.  Neither is anywhere close to $85 billion in deficit reduction this year.

Interestingly, both would push the deficit forecast this year back over $1 trillion.

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