Peter Suderman, associate edtior of Reason, "A legacy of budget trickery: Peter Orszag's sleight of hand":
When fiscal planners make a budget, they have to create what’s known as a “baseline scenario.” It’s an assumption about what the future holds without budgetary changes — in essence, “here’s what will happen if we do nothing.” Budget wonks then measure their proposed changes in comparison to what would have happened if we’d stuck to the baseline.
In the federal budget process, the baseline scenario is typically based on current law. But the Obama administration has argued that it should be able to work from “current policy.” That way, they can stuff all sorts of expensive future changes into the baseline.
Changing the baseline doesn’t generate any actual savings. But it allows the administration to ignore certain policies and only measure the changes that produce favorable results.
So this year, the White House decided to assume the cost of several provisions from its stimulus bill — expansions of the child tax credit, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and Pell Grants — into its baseline. Those policies were all explicitly created to be temporary. But by quietly assuming they’ll continue on, the administration avoids accounting for $216 billion.
Read the whole discouraging piece.