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Tag Archives: budget cuts

When Spending Cuts Aren’t Really Spending Cuts (or, “They Think We’re Stupid”)

In the ongoing battle between the parties to negotiate a debt-limit increase, there has been much talk of spending cuts.  Republicans are strongly taking a stand on cutting spending but no new taxes.  Democrats are open to spending cuts but are looking for ways to increase revenue to increasing taxes or cutting tax breaks.  But people won’t be surprised to know that both sides are choosing not to be up front with we the people.

When we the people look at a budget, we base it on what we have coming in at the time.  We then decide where we will spend those funds.  We won’t get into the notion that if we were out of money and needed more, if we did as the government does sometimes and print our own, we’d be hauled off to jail rather quickly.  In general, most people don’t have the luxury of just going out and getting loan after loan while continuing to spend above their means.

Not so with the government.

I got a call from a good friend of mine who was watching a show on CNBC.  He said a guy was on talking about how spending cuts weren’t spending cuts and how he’d remembered hearing it from me months ago.  You see, the government doesn’t operate the way normal people do.  Matter of fact, the government doesn’t even operate like a good company does.  And here is where they pull the wool over our eyes.  Let me explain using an example.

When Joe Public is doing a budget, he bases it off of how much he has coming in, and how much he as going out.  If he has more going out than coming in, he has no choice but to cut spending.  If he decides that he must make a spending cut, typically its going to result in him spending an amount less than what he is spending now.  So, where he may be spending $1,000 per month now, a budget cut may result in spending $950 per month next year.  That is a budget cut.

Now, the government doesn’t do that.  The government uses a nice little trick called baseline budgeting.  The government has already planned ahead as to what spending increases will be.  For example, while the budget for program A is $1,000 for 2011, they have already planned that in 2012 it will be $1,100, for 2013 it will be $1,200, and so on (sidenote:  the government tends to project increases in terms of percentages.  I’m using real numbers so I don’t have to use a calculator.).  So when there is talk of a spending cut, it is not like Joe Public, who takes his spending below what he was spending before.  Instead the government says, “well, instead of spending $1,100 in 2012, we’ll spend $1,050, and in 2013 we’ll spend $1,100.”  As you can see, overall spending still goes up, just not as fast.

This is why complaints about spending cuts have to be taken with a grain of salt.  Politicians will make things seem like a program is going to die due to budget cuts, but that is making the assumption that the reduced spending increase won’t be enough.  They also assume (correctly) that the majority of the people have no idea of how they are pulling the wool over their eyes.  If there is to be a serious, authentic discussion about spending cuts, then lets see some serious, authentic reductions in actual spending!