Friday, April 01, 2011


We can't keep on just borrowing from China. We have to pay interest on that debt, and that means we are mortgaging our children's future with more and more debt."
—Candidate Barack Obama

Budget Bloat
In politics, you always hope your representative is more interested in doing what they believe to be right and what will best represent their nation over what is in the best interest in their party gaining power. The more a politician seems to be simply after increased personal and party power, the less their voters tend to appreciate them.

Sometimes it can be difficult to separate these two possibilities. With Democrats, for instance, are they opposing any meaningful cuts in government out of principle and genuine concern for their constituency, or because they believe this is the path to regaining political power?

Recently, a telephone conference call with reporters gave us a glimpse of the answer. It started with Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) telling fellow Democrats how they should approach the debate over budget cuts without realizing reporters could hear the discussion. Jennifer Steinhauer at the New York Times Caucus blog tells the tale:
After thanking his colleagues — Barbara Boxer of California, Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland, Thomas R. Carper of Delaware and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut — for doing the budget bidding for the Senate Democrats, who are facing off against the House Republicans over how to cut spending for the rest of the fiscal year, Mr. Schumer told them to portray John A. Boehner of Ohio, the speaker of the House, as painted into a box by the Tea Party, and to decry the spending cuts that he wants as extreme. “I always use the word extreme,” Mr. Schumer said. “That is what the caucus instructed me to use this week.”

A minute or two into the talking-points tutorial, though, someone apparently figured out that reporters were listening, and silence fell.

Then the conference call began in earnest, with the Democrats right on message.

“We are urging Mr. Boehner to abandon the extreme right wing,” said Ms. Boxer...
Now it is no surprise that politicians meet to confer and come up with a unified message, particularly during a fight against the other party. It is not surprising that the Democratic Party wants to cut less out of the budget than the Republican Party, as it was members of that party who passed into law most of that spending to begin with.

What is sad, but not especially surprising, is to see the line of marching orders given to these congressmen, from the Congressional Black Caucus to Senator Shumer to these Democratic Party politicians. Here's what you should say, here's how you should frame the narrative. You can trust the media to repeat and use your quotes.

This story is moving around blogs on the internet, but it was not reported in newspapers and on television news, not even by the New York Times. The talking points "extreme cuts" and "tea party controlling Boehner" did, however, get repeated quite a bit. So while this is slightly embarrassing to the Democrats, it wasn't especially harmful to them.

Democrats have proposed cuts totaling .01156% of the $3.46 trillion dollar federal budget, Republicans have proposed .0266%. The Democrats are trying to find ways to portray the Republican cuts as extreme and far too deep for the nation to possibly withstand.

Any objective observer can see that these cuts are plainly not damaging to the budget or the nation by their insignificant size alone. And, thanks to a report by the Congressional Budget Office, we know that there are billions of dollars in wasted duplication and redundancy in the federal budget that can easily be cut. Here are a few samples from the report:
  • 15 different agencies overseeing food-safety laws
  • 82 federal programs to improve teacher quality
  • 80 to help disadvantaged people with transportation
  • 56 to help people understand finances
  • 18 federal programs on food and nutrition assistance
To argue that cuts totaling less than half of what the CBO estimates could be wasted in duplication alone is somehow extreme is disingenuous, to say the least. But as long as Democrats can rely on the press to repeat their talking points even when revealed to be nothing else, they'll keep doing it.

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