Two cool things buried in President Obama’s budget, which Republicans aren’t even reading

With all eyes turned to New Hampshire yesterday, one could be forgiven for not noticing that President Obama released the final budget proposal of his presidency. Congressional Republicans, fresh off of promises to the American people to get serious about governing, have declined to even take a look at it.

But there are a few items buried in this completely doomed budget that are really pretty cool, even if they don’t have a prayer of being considered. Specifically, it would separate the federal government from two ridiculous practices that should never have been given budgetary preference in the first place.

First up, President Obama’s budget would eliminate the federal tax exemption on the bonds cities and states sell to finance sports stadiums. From the Huffington Post:

President Obama's last State of the Union, via YouTube

President Obama’s last State of the Union, via YouTube

That exemption allows cities and states to pay for stadiums with tax-free bonds that have discounted interest rates, a practice that will cost federal taxpayersnearly $4 billion in tax money on existing stadium debt, according to a 2012 Bloomberg analysis.

Ending that exemption, which the budget would do on bonds issued after the end of 2016, would have a modest fiscal benefit — it would save roughly $542 million over the next decade, according to the budget proposal.

Economists have also suggested that eliminating the exemption would increase the price of stadiums for cities and states in a way that could, in theory, make them more cost-conscious when they enter into public financing deals. The Treasury Department argues that the repeal could reduce costs for local taxpayersin its explanation of the change, saying that “the current use of tax-exempt governmental bonds to finance sports facilities has shifted more of the costs and risks from the private owners to local residents and taxpayers in general.”

While this wouldn’t result in the complete end of publicly-financed stadiums, as cities and states could still raid their education budgets to finance new arenas, it would at least reduce the incentive to do so, which would be a positive development: Prior research has found that, despite the claims of team owners and the politicians who vote to fund their stadiums, the economic stimulus provided by publicly financing sports arenas could just as easily be achieved by dumping the same amount of cash out of a helicopter. If cities and states want to be a part of that, I guess that’s their prerogative because federalism, but it would be great if the federal government dissociated itself from the practice.

Next up, President Obama’s budget would also eliminate the competitive Abstinence Only Until Marriage (AOUM) program and the AOUM state grant.

The combined savings for eliminating these programs would be small ($85 million), but that isn’t the point. The point is that abstinence-only sex ed is an unscientific and harmful policy that we should, as a country, be moving away from.

From the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States:

Choosing instead to focus on investing in programs that support youth access to the information and education they need to lead sexually healthy lives, the president’s FY 2017 budget request proposes increased investment in the Office of Adolescent Health’s (OAH) Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program (TPPP) and maintains current funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Division of Adolescent and School Health (DASH).

The $4 million requested increase for TPPP would bring funding to $105 million to further support the 81 communities currently being served by TPPP efforts in 33 states across the country. The continuation of the DASH funding level reflects the administration’s determination to support its National HIV/AIDS Strategy Federal Action Plan and improve school-based HIV prevention, research, and evaluation efforts.

It would seem that, to paraphrase Marco Rubio, when it comes to budgeting President Obama does in fact know what he’s doing — moving money away from things that don’t work in favor of things that do. If only Republicans in Congress would pretend that they were interested in letting him.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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  • dcinsider

    The GOP shoulders a good deal of the blame but not all. His first two years gave him majorities in both houses and other than the ACA, nothing was accomplished.

    I think this President is terrific, in fact I’d say best in my lifetime, but I won’t engage in the game of suggesting he was without power. He was and is the President.

  • dcinsider

    Force of habit.

  • Badgerite

    I do. All the time. His second inaugural address gave you some inkling of what he could have done if he hadn’t had to clean up the previous administration’s messes while fighting off the obstructionist GOP. This is what I saw in him as a candidate. He wasn’t just “In it to win it”.
    He was “in it” to accomplish something for the future. And I think he has.

  • Badgerite

    Good point. I always thought that Howard Dean was on to something with his Fifty State strategy. I think the Democratic Party should go back to that. And local and state elections matter. I would look there, as ALEC has, as a way to start “the revolution”.
    These kids think that some person at the top will make a big change. It won’t. Politics requires the kind of practicality in involvement that they abhor. I suppose it doesn’t hurt to dream though. And talking can have positive effects. People start to wonder, “Yeah, why not”? I think to get things done, you need a little of both. Or a lot of both.

  • Don Chandler

    Not addressing ‘crisis’ leads to change of government and the republicans want control. They also manufacture crisis: “gay marriage is the end of times”, ebola scare, Muslim scares, financial collapse worries…they spin it every which way they can. They don’t care about the US citizenry at all.

  • Ol’ Hippy

    I think that the GOP sold out to the religious right because they/re the only ones that are for totally regressive policies. To get the votes they have to pander to the religious and push forth their ridiculous views, especially repressive sexual views. Now we’re stuck with a bunch of wacko ultra right wing extremists. We are now faced with a climate crisis that the GOP won’t even acknowledge due to the influence of huge energy grants to get them elected. It’s too bad we had a nice planet at one time.

  • Grant Saw

    Too bad he only has 8 years. Imagine what he could have done if republicans helped him. Why do republicans hate America?

  • It’s nice for Obama to put these things in his budget, but this has even less of a point to it than when Dems have big PR events to announce they’re submitting a bill which will immediately die in committee.

    What I want to hear from the Democrats is this: A strategy for winning back state legislatures so that come 2020, the GOPers don’t get to gerrymander the shit out of the country yet again. And a strategy for winning at least one but ideally both houses of Congress. Until they do this, everything they do is just political posturing.

    Hell, I don’t even want to hear Sanders and Clinton making lofty promises of what they’ll do, because they’ll be stopped in nearly everything except Supreme Court nominees and executive orders by the GOP-controlled House and Senate.

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