Washington: Definition of a Budget “Cut”

There are a few simple words in the English language that are universally understood.

In 1998, President Clinton, caught in the Lewinsky scandal, strained our imagination when he uttered this now infamous line: “It depends what the definition of ‘is’ is.”  Is, is the 3rd person singular, present indicative of the verb, “be,” and no amount of presidential posturing can change that.

There is another simple little word that is almost universally misunderstood, at least as it is applied in the nation’s Capitol.  It is the word “cut.”   Unlike the word “is,” cut has many definitions.  However, all of them are quite simple with one big exception.

The definition of cut that is fraught with complexities inside the Washington beltway is “to lower, reduce, diminish, or curtail.”  

It is understandable that the average citizen was a bit confused Friday night when a late night deal on the 2011 budget was announced which prevented a government shutdown.  The parties involved in working out the compromise each gave their take on the amount of budget “cuts” that were in that agreement but they were billions apart.

House Republicans had pressed for $69 billion in cuts.  They got $38.5 billion.  However, when

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid spoke he announced $78.5 billion in cuts.

Was it $38 billion or $78 billion?

It all depends on how the term “cut” is defined.  Reid was referring to cuts from the 2011 budget request President Obama introduced in the spring of 2010 which was never passed and is therefore mythical.

The $38 billion represents (for the most part) what you and I would recognize as a real cut.  That means the budget for domestic, discretionary spending for  FY 2011 should be $38 billion smaller than it was in 2010.  In Washington, this is rare, extremely rare!

In Washington, a “cut” is when you don’t get to spend everything you wanted to spend if money were no object — and with an uninformed or unconcerned electorate – money has been no object!

Each year, Washington’s number crunchers assume every program will grow by an unrealistic amount.  They work from something called the “current services” or “baseline” to make sure that every line item will increase because of population growth, increased demand, inflation and dozens of other factors that are all designed to make sure that everything grows and grows and grows.

Price reductions, decreased use, increased efficiency, etc. are never taken into consideration.  The whole process is skewed to make it look as if a program that is growing by leaps and bounds is stable or one that got a 4% increase, instead of the requested 7% or 8%  increase, has been “cut.”

Therefore, most of the “cuts” you hear about in Washington aren’t really cuts at all and the moaning you hear from affected constituencies is overblown hyperbole designed to fool us again.

Make no mistake, if Democrats still controlled both Houses of Congress, the 2011 Obama budget would have been used as a spending floor, not as a ceiling.   Every dollar of increased spending would have added to the “baseline” and would have doubled and tripled down the road. The bargain House Republicans reached with Senate Democrats and President Obama was an important first step but it was minuscule.

Last week, a friend expressed her exasperation to me over the budget stalemate and the possibility of a government shutdown.  She said, “Why can’t Republicans just compromise and why doesn’t Congress cut its own budget?”   I explained that when Republicans took control of the House, the very first thing they did was to cut lawmakers’ budgets by 5%.

My friend responded, “That’s nothing!”

Precisely!  The $38.5 billion dollar cut in the 2011 budget means domestic discretionary spending should fall by 4% percent after ballooning 21% (10 times the rate of inflation) in just two years.  It is nothing!  It’s roughly 1% of the overall bloated federal budget.  And Democrats were acting as though the world was coming to an end.

Republicans must draw a line in the sand over the 2012 budget and refuse to raise the debt ceiling.  Then, and only then, will we see some meaningful cuts to the federal budget.

House Speaker John Boehner is quick to remind us that Republicans control only ½ of 1/3 of the government.  True, but it’s the part of the government in which all spending bills must originate.   Not a dime can be spent unless the House says it can be spent.   If it means a government shutdown, let it happen.   They simply must hold the line!  If not, the country is going over a financial cliff.

7 thoughts on “Washington: Definition of a Budget “Cut”

  1. We have already gone over a “financial cliff”. The best we can hope for is a softer landing. The real outstanding unfunded debt is closer to $80 trillion with current programs.

    Heard on the radio this morning that California has a $26 billion shortage in their budget. That totally ignores the $150 billion in unfunded retirement benefits for state employees.

    It is time we took a look at what is actually out there looking us in the face.

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  2. The definition of ctting down expenses, is just that: spend less than you’re currently spending…NOT forecast to spend less in the future, especially since the future budget already includes spending increases camouflaged as “growth”. Reducing the rate of increase is not cutting expenses. Obama’s numbers are deceiving!

    As to cutting expenses, even what the GOP wsa able to pass is disappointingly insignificant…less than the equivalent of half of a percent of our debt servicing (interest we pay on our national debt). So at the rate we’re going, we’ll never pay down the US debt.

    A couple of suggestions that would help reduce actual budget spending (not debt service) would be to reduce the ridiculous benefits we offer our politicians, from all the perks in their spending through their special medical plans and their retirement benefits that provide them with a pension equal to their full salary while in office. Such perks aren’t offered to any other US citizen. What happened to the “public servant” concept enacted by our Founders?

    Another spending cut relates to retirement age. Why wait 6 more years to enact a higher retirement age? Why not start now? FYI, I’m 67 and NOT yet collecting my social security benefits…I’m waiting until I’m 70. Why? No, I’m not a multi-millionaire but I do work full time (and hope to continue for many more years). I recognize that this is an infinite infinitesimally small saving to our country, but that’s about the only thing I can do as a citizen.

    Thirdly, do away once and for all with Obama’s socialist medical plan…it won’t work! I’m from a country offering socialized medicine and there’s a reason why my countryman come to the US for treatment…socialized medicine doesn’t work. Even now, after Obama’s enactment, large numbers of US citizen who don’t have medical coverage and would be eligible haven’t even bothered to apply for medical covrage. Furthermore, so many Americans pursue unhealthy lifestyles that include unhealthy diets. Yes, it’s their choice and I would never want to take that freedom away from anyone…but why should the country subsidize their poor choices?

    Well, time to get off my soap box. To answer your question, Jane, yes the GOP compromised too much!

    G

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  3. I was disappointed in the “cut. It was miniscule compared to the financial situation. I am sorry Boehner compromised on taking policy out of the agenda. Policy is the agenda. I am one who wants HUGE cuts and policy changes. We need to abolish useless and tyrannical government departments. Examples: Abolish the Fed, the socialistic Department of Education, the meddling Department of Agriculture, the TSA, Cap and Trade,Law of the Sea, Czars, undeclared wars, foreign aid, earmarks,aid to illegals, tax-free foundations. These unconstitutional programs cost trillions. Bring our troops HOME. Cut the size of government 50%. Limit it to constitutional stated power only. Power to states and “the people”. Get the USA out of the UN and get the UN out of America! $38.5 trillion is miniscule.

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  4. It is surprising that that you don’t hear about the big items as illegal immigration and welfare. Let’s see now, what’s hard to understand about funding illegals or paying people not to work? –Yar

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  5. I see a common thread among responders. It’s where the media and the liberals talk about the Republican cuts that infuriates me. Why can’t Republicans speak out to the truth. Or, in fact, are we really looking only at cuts in some of the necessary social welfare programs. What about all the hundreds, maybe thousands of idiotic projects across the country that are political favors and thank yous. Those should be the first to go, not qualifying age changes, medical and food programs. And speaking of food programs let’s stop this insanity of nanny-state school meals. What a total waste. Go to school with your kid and see what they try to pass off on them as food.

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  6. Are you planning on actually posting something with substance anytime in the future? A bunch of talking points and simpleton declarations ain’t substance.
    You know, something like an analysis of what you claim to understand? No? Nothing? Just more partly line rubbish?

    I’m quite surprised you didn’t mention the “courage” of Paul Ryan again. BTW, did you ever read that “courageous” document? It says right in it it’s not going to solve the deficit or the debt. He also has said it’s “not a budget, it’s a cause.”
    But “courage” sure is a fun go to word! Everybody understands it and no thought required. Right up your alley.

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  7. Solid post. I study something like this here at University of Iowa.
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