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The “State of the Union” – what about the Union’s finances?

February 24, 2017

The Constitution calls for Presidents to give us “State of the Union” messages. You might think that these annual messages would be based in important part on a reliable financial report for the government.  But the State of the Union message is usually delivered before the arrival of the annual Financial Report of the US Government for the previous year.

In January 2016, Barack Obama delivered his last State of the Union message, before the release of the financial report for the prior year.  As in previous years, however, Barack Obama’s limited discussion of the government’s financial condition never referenced the annual financial report.

Consider as well, in a message with over 6000 words:

  • The word “debt” does not appear in the text of the January 2016 speech.  
  • The word "revenue" does not appear, either.
  • The word “financial” appears once, in reference to the 2007-2009 financial crisis.
  • The word "cost" appears three times -- in two references to the cost of college, and one reference to costs energy companies allegedly impose on taxpayers.
  • The word “deficit” appears once, in a claim that “we've done all this while cutting our deficits by almost three-quarters.”

Government accounting standards lead to estimates for a “deficit” or “surplus,” but these reported amounts aren’t necessarily the authoritative source for what they purport to say.  Another way, and probably better way, to think about “deficits” or “surplus” is the change in the net position from year to year – and not the net position reported by the government, but a measure including, among other things, the unfunded obligations in Medicare and Social Security. 

On that score, the federal government ran a “deficit” every year in the two Barack Obama administrations.  The “deficit” indeed narrowed from 2010 to 2014, but ballooned significantly in 2015 and 2016 – even as the President was claiming to cut “our deficits by almost three-quarters.”

The time has come for a new approach.  And in Congress, a new resolution has been introduced that, if passed, would invite the Comptroller General of the US (the head of the GAO, the audit arm of Congress) to deliver an annual “Fiscal State of the Nation” address to Congress and the nation, every year.

The bill was introduced by Representatives Jim Renacci of Ohio, Derek Kilmer of Washington, Larry Bucschon of Indiana, Kathleen Rice of New York, and their co-sponsors.

You can read the resolution here, and you can read about it in a press release from Rep. Renacci.

Below are a list of the 41 current co-sponsors in the House, and the date they co-sponsored the bill.

Rep. Sinema, Kyrsten [D-AZ-9]* 01/06/2017
Rep. O'Rourke, Beto [D-TX-16]* 01/06/2017
Rep. Cooper, Jim [D-TN-5]* 01/06/2017
Rep. Barton, Joe [R-TX-6]* 01/06/2017
Rep. Davidson, Warren [R-OH-8]* 01/06/2017
Rep. Stefanik, Elise M. [R-NY-21]* 01/06/2017
Rep. Lipinski, Daniel [D-IL-3]* 01/06/2017
Rep. Rice, Kathleen M. [D-NY-4]* 01/06/2017
Rep. Huizenga, Bill [R-MI-2]* 01/06/2017
Rep. Gohmert, Louie [R-TX-1]* 01/06/2017
Rep. Sanford, Mark [R-SC-1]* 01/06/2017
Rep. Costello, Ryan A. [R-PA-6]* 01/06/2017
Rep. Byrne, Bradley [R-AL-1]* 01/06/2017
Rep. Burgess, Michael C. [R-TX-26]* 01/06/2017
Rep. Bucshon, Larry [R-IN-8]* 01/06/2017
Rep. Westerman, Bruce [R-AR-4]* 01/06/2017
Rep. Meehan, Patrick [R-PA-7]* 01/06/2017
Rep. Kilmer, Derek [D-WA-6]* 01/06/2017
Rep. Turner, Michael R. [R-OH-10]* 01/06/2017
Rep. Webster, Daniel [R-FL-11]* 01/06/2017
Rep. Joyce, David P. [R-OH-14]* 01/06/2017
Rep. McClintock, Tom [R-CA-4]* 01/06/2017
Rep. Calvert, Ken [R-CA-42]* 01/06/2017
Rep. Sensenbrenner, F. James, Jr. [R-WI-5]* 01/06/2017
Rep. Amodei, Mark E. [R-NV-2]* 01/06/2017
Rep. Smith, Adrian [R-NE-3]* 01/06/2017
Rep. Johnson, Bill [R-OH-6]* 01/06/2017
Rep. Peters, Scott H. [D-CA-52]* 01/06/2017
Rep. Moulton, Seth [D-MA-6]* 01/06/2017
Rep. LaHood, Darin [R-IL-18]* 01/06/2017
Rep. Barletta, Lou [R-PA-11]* 01/06/2017
Rep. Bishop, Mike [R-MI-8]* 01/06/2017
Rep. Valadao, David G. [R-CA-21]* 01/06/2017
Rep. Marino, Tom [R-PA-10]* 01/06/2017
Rep. Wenstrup, Brad R. [R-OH-2] 01/11/2017
Rep. Chaffetz, Jason [R-UT-3] 01/11/2017
Rep. Katko, John [R-NY-24] 01/11/2017
Rep. Jeffries, Hakeem S. [D-NY-8] 01/17/2017
Rep. Maloney, Sean Patrick [D-NY-18] 01/24/2017
Rep. Cuellar, Henry [D-TX-28] 01/24/2017
Rep. Faso, John J. [R-NY-19] 02/06/2017

 

 

 
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