Government Spending

Congressional Republicans Say They Just Cut $15 Billion in Spending. It's Actually Only $1.1 Billion.

President Donald Trump's rescission bill actually cuts just $57 million from current year spending. So that oughta solve the fiscal crisis.


The House voted 210-206 on Thursday evening to approve what Republicans claim is a $15 billion spending cut made at the request of President Donald Trump.

In reality, the so-called "rescission" package that Trump urged GOP lawmakers to pass this week cuts only about $1.1 billion in federal spending—or about 0.08 percent of the $1.3 trillion spending bill passed by Congress and signed by Trump in March.

It's not even accurate to say that the rescission will put a dent in federal spending. I mean, can you see a difference here?

Chart by Eric Boehm; Data from Congressional Budget Office

That chart actually gives the GOP the benefit of the doubt by assuming that all $1.1 billion would be cut from the current year's spending. In fact, the cut in the current fiscal year is smaller still: just $57 million, according to the Congressional Budget Office's analysis of the bill. Most of the cuts would apply to the next three fiscal years, with a not-so-whopping $368 million trimmed from next year's proposed spending levels.

Trump and congressional Republicans are able to claim this is a $15 billion cut because the rescission is targeting about $15 billion (actually $14.8 billion) in current spending and so-called "budgetary authority" from previous years. It's still worthwhile to sweep up those leftover, unspent dollars from a variety of federal agencies and departments so they can't be used on anything else, but this is hardly a "cut" in any meaningful sense.

"It's not a large spending cut, and it's not going to offset the damage done earlier this year," Marc Goldwein, senior vice president for the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a nonprofit that favors balanced budgets, told The Washington Post on Thursday.

Source: Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget

Mostly, the rescission bill serves as an example of how difficult balancing the federal budget is, both mathematically and politically.

Objectively, $1.1 billion is a lot of money. Unfortunately, it's barely even a rounding error for the current U.S. budget. But that hasn't stopped Trump and top congressional Republicans, like Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) from proclaiming the bill as evidence of their fiscally conservative bona fides.

That nonsense is particularly galling when it comes from Ryan, who is smart enough to know the difference between budgetary authority and future spending, even if he's counting on the fact that most voters don't. It's just another illustration of how far Ryan has fallen from his days as the House's earnest budget-making nerd.

The left is just as guilty of peddling half-truths in the debate over the rescission bill. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) seized on the proposed cut of $5 billion in budgetary authority for the Children's Health Insurance Program as an opportunity to blame Trump and the GOP for "going after health care dollars that millions of children rely on, especially during outbreaks of the flu and other deadly illnesses." The rescission bill will go to the Senate next.

But the congressional authorization to spend that money expired in September, and Congress provided a new stream of funding for CHIP as part of the budget deal passed earlier this year. In trying to make some basic budgetary house cleaning sound like Republicans are injecting poor kids with flu viruses, Schumer is only making a fool of himself.

That's why cutting spending is so impossible in Washington today. Neither side is even close to having an honest discussion about it.

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  1. Reason lost my respect on spending when so many staff here came out against the ACA revision bills in the House and Senate–the worst of which (from a fiscally conservative standpoint) cut $1.022 trillion in spending from entitlement programs, mostly from Medicaid.

    I suppose cutting $1.5 billion isn’t as good as cutting $15 billion, but I can’t get excited about the difference between them after watching Suderman and others excoriate a bill that cut $1.022 trillion in spending from entitlement programs over ten years–because it wasn’t a full repeal of the ACA?

    Trump supported that bill and would have signed it if it had cleared the Senate.

    Paul Ryan supported that bill and actually passed even bigger spending cuts through the House.

    The GOP abandoned fiscal conservatism after the failure of that bill in the Senate, mostly because of the ostensibly good intentions of fiscal conservatives. Makes me nauseated to think about it. There has never been a bill in our lifetimes that did more to make the government smaller, and Reason staff opposed it every step of the way.

    Watching Reason go after Trump and Paul Ryan for not being fiscally conservative is absurd given those facts. Their credibility as fiscal conservatives is shot, and I’m not about to forget it any time soon.

      1. “CBO and JCT estimate that, over the 2017-2026 period, enacting this legislation would reduce direct spending by $1,022 billion and reduce revenues by $701 billion, for a net reduction of $321 billion in the deficit over that period”


        $1.022 trillion in spending cuts.

        “Reduced Revenues” means tax cuts of $701 billion.

        They were going to cut spending more than they cut taxes, too.

        Cutting spending + Cutting Taxes = Smaller Government

        They were cutting a socialist entitlement program.

        Reason opposed the bill.

        Now they want to tell us that the GOP aren’t real fiscal conservatives?

        Gimmie a break.

        1. Shouldn’t you be out celebrating?

        2. Honestly, please correct me if I’m wrong but hasn’t reason fairly recently written articles that at least painted…

          Carbon taxes
          Universal income

          …in a rather positive light?

          And they immediately write this off because…”EWW REPUBNCANZ”?

          It ain’t perfect and the Rs have pissed on any semblance of fiscal conservatism, but this is at least a relatively positive development.

          Come on, guys.

          1. Yes they did. And as I joked, even a Canadian like me noticed because they sound like a Canadian news outlet on those issues.

            And they’re nit picking because it’s a good thing.

            1. That is, they shouldn’t nit pick because it’s better than what we’ve seen in the last 16 years.

              1. Yeah, it’s a tiny reduction but it’s a reduction. As far as I can tell, it’s not even the mealy-mouthed ‘reduction’ that they cite when the budget simply grows less than it otherwise could have but I’m not sure it’s worth digging into such a tiny cut that deeply.

        3. When you’re a professional liar who spends every waking minute of every day lying, it requires you to go through some epic logical contortions.

    1. It’s theTDS, man.

      1. Yep, this whole article comes across as TDS.

        “Yeah, it would be a good thing, but Trump!”

    2. The tears of a clown.

  2. “It’s just another illustration of how far Ryan has fallen from his days as the House’s earnest budget-making nerd.”

    No, this is just another illustration of how lazy thinkers bought Ryan’s rap about what a great guy he was. Ryan voted for all of Bush’s budget busters, voted against everything that Obama proposed, and now has voted for all of Trump’s budget busters. Notice a pattern there?

    1. He, nor anyone else, shouldn’t be in office that long.

    2. What trump budget busters? Budget implies a decision on spending. Trump hated signing the last spending measure and said he won’t do it again. Congress created that without the help of trump. So if you say tax cuts, you’re being dishonest.

  3. Ok so they exaggerated but it’s still $1 billion!

    Better than nothing, no?

    1. Yeah, but turd will be here in the morning to tell us how Obo cut eleventy hundred billion, so phbbbpt!

    2. To be fair, most cbo projections are also exaggerated.

  4. If the Republicans actually cut $1 in spending, that’s $1 more than any spending anyone else has cut since like… 1954.

    1. Clinton’s administration (notably, with a republican led congress) effectively approved freezing spending increases that exceeded revenue.

      Obviously, “cutting” and “spending” are interrelated. When someone goes on a spending spree, like Trump has done, cutting a paltry amount of spending after the fact is nothing but window dressing. His net inflation-adjusted spending still exceeds Clinton’s.

  5. So can the Departments of Education/Homeland Security/Agriculture (insert literally dozens more) be deemed “Unused and Unnecessary”?
    That would save a couple bucks.

  6. First. pet peeve; round is not an error, it is a precise mathematical process.

    Second, no one ever saves tax money by cutting any federal program. Entire programs / departments must be legislatively eliminated.
    Say departments 1 through 5, 7 though 9?
    The constitution seems to be OK on justice and treasury.

    1. And a “rounding error” is when someone performs that precise mathematical process incorrectly. Conceptually, the resulting difference between the correct result and the incorrect result is insignificantly small.

  7. “Mostly, the rescission bill serves as an example of how difficult balancing the federal budget is, both mathematically and politically.”

    Uh, no.

    Politically? Maybe.

    Mathematically? Not even the littlest bit.

    1. Depending on what he meant by “mathematically”, I think it’s a fair statement. Immediately attempting to balance the budget is an utterly massive change that could have some significant short-term consequences. Even some libertarians have suggested a Keynesian-like strategy to manage the transition from a fiat money based economy built on economic protectionism to a free market. Kokesh’s interview of Kevin Carson in 2014 went into depth on this.

      Moral of the story: you can’t just cut ~50% of the budget, maintain the tax system in a way that produces enough revenue to cover what remains while paying down the deficit, and expect that this won’t have a significant ripple effect on the economy.

  8. It’ll be $15B if you extend the Baseline out far enough.

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