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Tag Archives: Budget

A Nice Visual Explanation of How the Government Can “Cut” Spending…and Increase Spending at the Same Time

Been curious as to whether or not the government was really cutting spending in all these negotiations?  Wondered what “baseline spending” is?  Didn’t realize that all the crying about cutting programs for the poor is crap?  Check out this video.  You’ll never look at “spending cuts” the same again!

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!

I Said We All Lose With the Budget Deal; It’s Worse Than I Thought

In my last post, I explained why I thought we all lose out in the end when it comes to the budget deal agreed on last week.  Well, now that they put out the details of the agreement, many people are realizing that it’s worse than we thought.  In many cases, “cuts” aren’t cuts at all.

So, what constitutes a “budget cut?”

Many of the cuts appear to have been cuts in name only, because they came from programs that had unspent funds.

For example, $1.7 billion left over from the 2010 census; $3.5 billion in unused children’s health insurance funds; $2.2 billion in subsidies for health insurance co-ops (that’s something the president’s new health care law is going to fund anyway); and $2.5 billion from highway programs that can’t be spent because of restrictions set by other legislation.

About $10 billion of the cuts comes from targeting appropriations accounts previously used by lawmakers for so-called earmarks – pet projects like highways, water projects, community development grants and new equipment for police and fire departments. Republicans had already engineered a ban on earmarks when taking back the House this year.

Republicans also claimed $5 billion in savings by capping payments from a fund awarding compensation to crime victims. Under an arcane bookkeeping rule — used for years by appropriators — placing a cap on spending from the Justice Department crime victims fund allows lawmakers to claim the entire contents of the fund as “budget savings.” The savings are awarded year after year.

For those keeping count at home, that block of funny money amounts to $24.9 billion of the $38 billion in budget cuts! Yes, the shutdown drama was over about $13 billion in actual cuts, which amounts to a miniscule percentage of the overall budget. Oh, and they managed to find time to tell D.C. how they can and can’t spend their money, too.

This is the type of tomfoolery we have to put up with. Both sides should be ashamed. But we know its just business as usual.

Neither party is serious about debt, and the joke is on us

As of today, to pay off the entire US debt would require every US citizen to write a check for $45,400.  EVERY citizen.  The total debt is right at $14.1 TRILLION.  And neither party is really serious about doing something about it.

On the right, they are making a lot of noise, but as the saying goes, “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”  First, after promising to cut $100 billion in spending from the next budget, they are only able to come up with about $65 billion.  After being called to task by the Tea Party, they are able to dig and find the promised $100 billion.  The problem?  Not only are the cuts based on a budget that President Obama never sent to the House, but they also used the infamous “baseline budgeting” tricks.

Quick refresher:  Baseline budgeting is a technique where by the budget of a particular department or organization is projected years in advance.  Typically, those budgets include an already-applied increase in funding.  So, a department may already have on paper that in 2011, they will be funded at $10 million, but due to a budget increase already factored in, they may know that their budget in 2012 will have $10.3 million due to an expected 3% increase in funding.

What republicans have done is to say “we are going to cut x billions,” not acknowledging that instead of truly cutting funding, they are simply reducing the already scheduled budget increase.  So instead of cutting a department’s funding from $10 million to $9 million, they are simply advocating cutting the 3% increase to 2% or some other number.  The cut isn’t really a cut.

Further, in the “fraud waste and abuse” category, some republicans are on board with funding a 2nd, alternative engine for the F-35 Lightning II project.  The F-35 is slated to replace thousands of fighter jets in the US inventory, and the building effort is being shared across many countries, including the US, Canada, the UK, and Turkey.  The engines for the plane are made by Rolls Royce, but there is an effort in Congress to secure funding for a second engine.  The reasoning given is “in case the first one has problems,” but the real reason is to secure jobs and a contract for an American firm.  Even the Pentagon has said they don’t want it.

Democrats aren’t helping.  Even thought the White House has proposed cutting funding to some programs (like a heating oil assistance program), many Dems refuse to go along with any proposed cuts in “entitlement” spending.   Though everything should be on the table, dems are resisting anything that might touch Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.  Obama and the democrats have also been using the baseline budgeting trick, especially with the healthcare reform bill.  Once again, a cut isn’t really a cut.

For there to be real solutions, someone on both sides needs to wake up and wake up their fellow politicians to the real threat they all know about but are afraid to do something about (don’t want to mess up their reelection chances!).  The recommendations of the Debt Committee would be a good place to start.

Debt reduction–when cutting spending isn’t really cutting spending

Upon further review of the Debt Commission report that got shot down last week, I found something interesting that most of us don’t even realize.

Budgets in Washington tend to factor in an automatic annual increase in spending.  In other words, every year the amount spent on a given program goes up regardless of necessity–and trust me, we all know that an organization will find a way to spend the money in order to avoid a budget cut.  Anyway, when the debt commission spoke of spending “cuts,” there was outrage from both sides (depending on the program to get the cut).  But it turns out there were smoke and mirrors involved.  The commission did not recommend actual cuts.  What they did recommend was a reduction of the annual budget increases.  In other words, they said “instead of programs x, y, and z getting automatic annual increases of 3%, lets just allow them to increase 2%.”

What??

Translation:  they couldn’t find actual spending cuts to be made!  No reductions in spending.  No freezes in spending.  Just a slowdown in growth.  Just wow.

I wish I could operate my home budget the way these folks run Washington!