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For Budgeting, Tough Accounting for 'Gimmicks'

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Recent legislation proposed by Senate Democrats to extend unemployment benefits by reducing companies’ pension payments has been derided by outside groups on both sides of the political spectrum.

“The risk with a phony cap on OCO is that it creates a slush fund for lawmakers to tap into to count ‘savings’ from spending that was never planned,” she said. “A cap on OCO below the current CBO projections for OCO would establish phantom savings.”

Lorenzen is more worried about pension smoothing, which he said “may have more traction as something Congress seriously considers since it has had bipartisan support in the past and has been proposed by Senate leaders and seriously considered by House leaders.”

But some budget watchers also warn that criticism of budget actions as “gimmicks” is often just part of the political back-and-forth aimed at attacking underlying policies.

Scott Lilly, senior fellow at the liberal Center for American Progress, said gimmicks are often “in the eye of the beholder.”

“One point that needs to be made in the current context of budget restraint is that a very large portion of the spending reductions that are occurring as a result of the sequestration that occurred last year and the current spending caps are in my view not only gimmicks but gimmicks that will prove very costly over the long term,” Lilly said.

“They involve the deferral of meeting obligations that the government will eventually have to meet,” he said.

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