Friday, November 11, 2005

The death of a thousand uncuts


Everyone's up in arms about the on-again-off-again "spending cuts" on Capitol Hill. Republicans are simultaneously bragging about their party's return to a fiscal discipline it's never known and dodging like hell to avoid actually making any of the actual cuts ... which, by the way, aren't cuts. Democrats are raising holy hell about the cuts ... which, as I just friggin' mentioned, aren't, um, cuts.

Let's start with an obvious, but usually unmentioned fact: If the bill in question passes, federal spending will not decrease by so much as one thin dime. As a matter of fact, it will go up regardless.

The "cuts" are actually "offsets" -- nobody is proposing to spend less money; they're just proposing to spend money on different things. "Katrina relief," to be precise. The proposal is to "cut" $50 billion from various programs over five years, in order to "offset" new federal spending on hurricane aid. Congress has already spent more than $50 billion and may go as high as $200 billion, on the hurricane projects in question. The size of the federal budget is going to increase. At the very most, these "offsets" will slightly decrease the increase.

Now, let's talk about what $50 billion over five years means. That's $10 billion per year. The federal budget for FY2006 was $2.57 trillion when President Bush sent his request to Congress. By the time they were done with it, it was not quite $2.7 trillion. Assuming only $50 billion in "emergency spending" for hurricane aid, and leaving out the various tricks and scams (such as leaving most Iraq war funding, and a lot of routine Pentagon spending, to "emergency supplementals"), let's call it $2.75 trillion. So, the $10 billion in proposed "spending cuts" (which aren't any such thing) for FY2006 would come to a ... well, let's see ... a billion is a thousandth of a trillion .... ten billion would be a hundredth of a trillion ... 1 divided by 2.75 is ... wow ... ladies and gents, what we're talking about here is just about a whopping one third of one percent of the budget.

Underwhelmed? You should be. If Congress was shopping for groceries, this controversy would be on a lesser pleateau of importance than whether or not to throw a couple of candy bars in the cart at the checkout line. Now consider that the quibbledicks on the Hill are doing their damnedest to avoid "cutting" even that much, and you should be more than underwhelmed. You should be righteously pissed off at the amount of public face time these guys are scamming for the purpose of pulling your leg about "sacrifice" and "fiscal restraint" (or, from the other side of the aisle "draconian cuts in absolutely essential social spending"). I know couples who pull down $500 a week and who argue about expenditures of a buck-and-a-half, but at least they don't insist on doing it on national TV.

Like making sausage, folks. Like making sausage. And it gets worse. Hopefully my FMNN piece on ANWR and the "conservative" wailing and gnashing of teeth will appear some time today. Stay tuned.

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