November 23, 2012
The 'Balanced Approach' Is an Unbalanced LieBy Joe Herring
As the Republicans in Congress struggle to find relevance in a world that ignores sanity, those of us who yet retain a grasp on our faculties must be careful to not lose our way. While we are understandably stunned by the grasping nature of so many of our countrymen who voted for fantasy over future, the fact remains that this ship carries us all, and absent our involvement, said ship will founder on the shoals of ignorance, sooner rather than later.
The first battle in the coming war will be fought over the "fiscal cliff," which is a dramatic way of describing the agreement Congress and the president struck in order to avoid the last iteration of the bill-collectors' arrival at our national door. Should both sides be unable to live up to the promises they made the last time, then a pre-determined set of spending cuts and tax increases are slated to become law.
Whether you accept the economic danger our nation faces should we step off the edge of this rhetorical precipice, the fact remains: we aren't arguing on an equal footing. The terms of the debate are predicated on a fundamental lie. The terms generally understood to mean one thing by the citizen make for something entirely different to the politician.
One such term is "spending cut." Clearly, we citizens would assume this to be a reduction in dollars spent this year, relative to dollars spent last year. That is not the case. In Washington, they use a wondrous accounting method known as "baseline" budgeting. The money spent in the previous year becomes the baseline for the next year, and so on.
If extra money was spent last year, then that is now part of the budget baseline. Case in point: the stimulus bill totaling more than $1.2 trillion. This was an egregious abuse of the public's money, but it wasn't an isolated incident. Due to the miracle of baseline budgeting, we have spent that money again and again and again, during each year of Obama's presidency. This is the primary reason why Harry Reid won't allow a budget bill. It will cut off the spigot.
Surprised? Don't be. This is the reality we face, and ignoring the depth of corruption involved serves only to further enable these politicians' perfidy. Now, in this lame-duck session of Congress, we are faced again with a budgetary fight. Not an actual budget mind you, but rather another faux-budget in the form of a continuing resolution to maintain spending in order to keep the government open for business.
In the absence of a budget, appropriations must be reauthorized through congressional action. This is done with a continuing resolution, which essentially is an agreement that we will "continue" to do all the things we've been doing, along with as many plums for ourselves as we can squeeze in under the radar. Clearly, there is nothing frugal about this activity; it is the opposite of that, and both sides in Washington know this, yet they pride themselves on their ability to play these games with our tax dollars.
The phrase you're going to hear a lot in the coming weeks is "balanced approach" -- that is, a balance between new revenue (taxes) and cuts in spending to achieve deficit reduction. It is a bald-faced lie, and it is repeated by too many folks on the Republican side of the aisle, along with all but a handful of Democrats.
"It sounds right, though," you might say. "It sounds fair." It might be, if first, it weren't based on a purposeful misrepresentation of reality...and if our government were in fact revenue-starved. But the reality is that our federal government is receiving more tax dollars now than at any time in history. Even adjusted for inflation, Washington is raking in vast fortunes in comparison to the sums they had while winning both World Wars and presiding over the greatest economic expansion in the history of any nation, at any time.
So where's the lie? On the spending side, of course. The spending cuts offered in the balanced approach are not real cuts. They are Washington cuts, which are actually just decreases in hoped-for increases. If the administration wishes to spend baseline plus 15%, and agrees to spend only baseline plus 5%, everyone takes credit for a 33% cut in spending. Since the baseline assumes an increase each year automatically, any decrease in the "assumed" increase is counted as a "cut." Obviously it isn't a cut at all, but rather a healthy increase -- but who's counting? Certainly not the media.
On the other side of the ledger, however, the tax increases are figured just as we mundane citizens might expect. They are increases in taxes paid by we, the people. They are very real. So when President Obama and the socialist left (along with collaborating RINOs) claim to offer ten dollars in spending cuts for every dollar of tax increase, know that the only thing real in that equation is the tax increase. The "cuts" are a chimera.
I suggest we offer a compromise. We will match the other side dollar for dollar in spending cuts and tax increases as long as we use the same formula to calculate them both. Mitt Romney campaigned on an across-the-board tax cut of 20%. Lets agree to a tax cut of 10% and then require the left to match our 50% increase in taxes with a 50% decrease in spending. What will change? Not a damn thing, but perhaps, finally, it will force our politicians to debate in real terms, using real numbers with real meaning. It will at least be entertaining to watch the left twist themselves into knots trying to explain why their spending cuts are real but our tax increases are not.
What about the fiscal cliff? How will we save ourselves? Considering that the government has been grown by at least 40% in just the last four years alone, a ten-percent haircut will not be disastrous; it will only seem that way to the vested interests that thrive by growing government. It is time to expose the lie -- no matter which side is telling it.
After all, it is a financial impossibility to have spent roughly four trillion more in the last four years than the previous four and credibly claim that there is no room in the budget for the comparatively modest cuts on the other side of the fiscal cliff. Were it not for the tax increases that are part and parcel of the deal, I would say jump.
How we frame this debate will have a great deal to do with how successful we are in winning it. Our Republican leadership are desperately looking for a way to prove themselves relevant in a startlingly different world. Might I suggest we begin by being the party that slays the baseline budgeting beast? Some good advice for the Republican leadership: when all else fails, try honesty. (Better yet, try honesty first.)
The author writes from Omaha, NE and welcomes visitors and comments at his website, www.readmorejoe.com.