Rep. Tom Price (R-GA), chairman of the House Budget Committee, engaged in a conversation today with Brookings scholars and audience members on the congressional budget process. When Senior Fellow David Wessel, director of the Hutchins Center on Fiscal and Monetary Policy and moderator of the event, asked Rep. Price for his views on the substance of the budget, including whether we spend enough on defense and why budget have seemed to provide fewer federal resources aimed at lower-income people, a lively exchange ensued. Watch:
Prior to Rep. Price’s appearance on stage, Wessel moderated a discussion with four Brookings experts on their reactions to President Obama’s final State of the Union address, and what they would advise a presidential candidate to focus on with respect to the federal budget.
Senior Fellow Michael O’Hanlon, co-director of the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence, observed that the global military spending budget comparisons that the president made, while accurate, “aren’t great” considering that our forces operate in multiple theaters and the U.S. has multiple commitments to its many allies. Instead, O’Hanlon said that South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, who delivered the official GOP response to the president’s address, “was setting up the more interesting debate, which is, do we have a strong enough navy? Do we have a big enough army for the tasks before us?”
Molly Reynolds, a fellow in Governance Studies, observed that she was struck by the contrast between President Obama’s talk about his legacy and his pivot at the end to “this conversation that sounds like vintage 2008 Obama or even 2004 DNC Convention speech Obama.” She also noted that despite the president’s acknowledgment of the criticism that he hasn’t been able to fix how Washington works, she is not optimistic that anything will come of it. As she said, “we’ll see relatively little policymaking activity” in the coming year as the conversation “will be very dominated” by the presidential and congressional campaigns.
Stuart Butler, senior fellow in Economic Studies, felt that there are “lots of opportunities for common ground” between the president and Congress, in areas such as antipoverty programs, income support, and even decentralization of health care. Watch:
Senior Fellow William Gale, co-director of the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center and director of the Retirement Security Project, called tax and fiscal policy “definitely the dog that didn’t bark in this speech.” He called attention to the fact that in the speech, President Obama “approached potentially big changes several times and then stopped short of saying them,” including a carbon tax to address climate change, economic security measures, and the growing concentration of wealth and political power at the top. “I don’t know if that represents pessimism about anything happening this year,” Gale said, “or if it’s just not what he wanted to emphasize in his speech. This speech was about tone and vision, but definitely there was a lack of specific proposals.”
Just before Rep. Price came on to the stage, Wessel asked each of the panelists what he or she would say to any of the presidential candidates about the federal budget. Watch the video to get each of their responses: