Washington's Favorite Budget Gimmick


Looking for an extra trillion bucks in deficit reduction to round out your shiny, new budget plan, but don't actually want to make any real cuts? Look no further: A quirk in the way the Congressional Budget Office scores spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan offers an easy trillion dollars or so in deficit scamming for any legislator who wants to claim it, just by changing the budgeting assumptions to reflect policies already in place. At this point, it's gunning for the title of Washington's Favorite Budget Gimmick.

Here's how the gimmick works: The CBO's scoring rules assume that war spending remains at a constant level growing with inflation—even in the midst of a troop drawdown. So deficit fakers can take advantage of this by instructing the CBO to account for an already-planned troop reduction.

It's a bipartisan, bicameral gimmick: The Republican budget passed in the House earlier this year used it to tout an extra $1.3 trillion in deficit savings, and Democrat-friendly budget geeks called them out for it. A debt deal plan released by the Democratic Majority Leader in the Senate over the summer did the same, and the AP called it a "glaring $1 trillion ploy."

And now President Obama, whose first budget director told The New York Times that "the president prefers to tell the truth rather than make the numbers look better by pretending," is following suit. The administration's package of debt-reduction recommendations claims $1.1 trillion in war-related deficit reduction. But as The Washington Post reported this morning, they're still fake. "Because Obama has no intention of continuing war spending at last year's elevated levels, that $1.1 trillion would never have been spent." Which means that the $4 trillion in deficit reduction the White House claims to have come up with is actually more like $3 trillion, of which half comes from tax hikes

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  1. That’s optimistically assuming that the troop drawdowns actually occur, and that Obama doesn’t start any new wars.

    1. You know, given the fiscal and foreign policy implications of war–not to mention domestic discomfort with our citizens getting killed or hurt–you’d think we wouldn’t let one person decide whether our entire nation is in a state of war.

      1. Maybe we need a Constitutional amendment that requires, I dunno, Congressional approval?

        1. Well, that seems a little strong. Maybe a consultation right?

          1. maybe a supercommittee.

            1. With dynamic consultation rights and the power to issue a stern statement of disapproval!

        2. I think it is enough if the President just gets approval of the neighbors of the nation to be attached.

  2. The phrase “deficit reduction” is already a gimmick. You can’t reduce a deficit, which has units of Money^1 Time^-1, by a figure which has units of Money^1. Any decent engineer (or scientist or mathematician) ought to call them on that.

    But they can’t just call it “debt reduction” instead, because the debt never actually gets reduced. The units would match up but they’d instead deserve to get called out on using a misleading term for “debt increase-but-not-quite-as-fast-as-previously-planned”.

    Which is why the gimmick is there in the first place, I guess. “I’m going to put us deeper into debt, even faster than we were already going deeper into debt, but not quite as much faster as we originally planned!” Yay? The honest phrasing just isn’t very impressive.

    1. I’ve got a pain-free plan to reduce the deficit by $100 trillion dollars! (Over 10 trillion years.)

      1. Good luck getting Congress to cut $10 a year

      2. So, you think that I am a fifth columnist, a Wonkette, heh?

        Many would consider such musings to be defamatory, per se. A considerable segment of the posting community would not like to be associated with Wonkette and would consider those who collaborate with Wonkette to be pariahs to the circle of liberty.

        Don’t worry, I will not ask the state to take from you in order to compensate me nor will I ask others to stifle themselves.

        1. But what do you think about sheep, Libertymike?

          1. Some, OBVIOUSLY, graze here.

  3. …more like $3 trillion, of which half comes from tax hikes.

    balanced approach, right?

  4. I thought their favorite gimmick was baseline budgeting.

  5. The absolute favorite gimmick? Lying.

    I’d be surprised if half these fuckers had any idea how to define the word “truth”.

  6. It’s okay when our side does it.

  7. You’d think it might be possible to find something real by sifting through all this bullshit, but it’s not. It’s bullshit all the way down.

  8. the biggest budgeting gimmick is getting voters to believe the bullshit. Amazing what politicians can accomplish when supported by a massively uninformed populace.

  9. the biggest budgeting gimmick is getting voters to believe the bullshit. Amazing what politicians can accomplish when supported by a massively uninformed populace.

    1. Only an informed populace knows how to defeat the squirrel.

      1. Government schools do not produce an informed populace, and it is not by accident.

  10. I’m a little lost in regards to the “half from tax hikes”.

    Is half of $3T or $4T coming from tax hikes?

  11. The way to stop these kind of shenanigans is for the media as whole to call political class on them and not pass it off as politics as usual or worse, clever politics. Unfortunately, the media will only do that on the politicians it disfavors.

  12. Your complaint is that there are actual spending cuts that are going to come pretty easily because they correspond to current policy anyway.

    I don’t care about how easy it is. If it cost a trillion less than current CBO projections, then that helps. It’s not a gimmick to count it. So what if anyone can claim it? In fact, if both Republicans and Democrats want to claim it, all the better.

  13. I’m getting pretty damn tired of Barry saying “increase revenues” when he’s talking about increasing taxes. They’re not the same thing!

    It seems difficult for some to understand that high rates of taxation do not necessarily mean large revenue to the Government, and that more revenue may often be obtained by lower rates.” ? Andrew Mellon

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