The Public Interest

Federal credit and the "shadow budget"

Elisabeth H. Rhyne & Herman B. Leonard

Fall 1981

IF the public gets its way, the 1980s may one day be viewed as the decade in which “control” over the growth of federal government spending was established in the United States. Budget cutters have been given wide latitude in Washington, and red pencils are in great demand. But cutting the budget requires that there first be a budget to cut-that is, that the programs that should face the budget ax be accounted for in a way that allows appropriate scrutiny. The “shadow budget”-the financial commitments of the federal government that are not appropriately accounted for in the budget considered by Congress has only recently begun to attract the public’s attention. Federal assistance in the form of credit is one of the largest parts of that shadow budget, which also includes tax expenditures and the federal direction of resources through regulation. If the 1980’s are to see the advent of real control over the public sector, our understanding of the shadow budget will have to improve very rapidly. It will be vital if we are to avoid the temptation to move programs cut from the “real” budget onto the shadow budget.

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