February 15, 2004

Budget Fudging

It's worth scribbling down a few notes on this post by Mark Schmitt on how to 'interpret' the federal budget. Note that the tricks used aren't really confined to one party or the other. Some of the cuter little machinations include:

  • Cuts to programs whose congressional defenders are out of power and whose beneficiaries are not swing voters.
  • Proposals for cuts that will simply never happen and everyone knows it. (Especially if one proposes to cut, say, defense appropriations that can then later be 'saved' by a heroic congressman).
  • Cuts that the administration will itself later reverse with great fanfare.
  • Proposals for some sort of inoffensive policy change that might lead to a chain of events that would reduce spending on some federal program. And then get the Congressional Budget Office to "score" the change as producing a budget savings.
  • Schmitt's list ends here, but of course the full list, The List, the complete ledger of tricks, trumps, and sneaks used to fudge the budget goes on and on. For instance, "emergency" appropriations are declared all the time when there is not (surprise!) an emergency of any sort. This testimony by the director of the Office of Management and Budget, Mitchell Daniels, Jr., sums up a lot of the problems pretty well, in suitably boring testimonial form. Which is part of the concern: these boring problems are still, well, boring problems. Not many voters are going to get riled up over a crusade against fiscal chicanery, apart from a few Cato and Heritage wonks. And 'Damn the Man' outsiders like McCain and Dean can't seem to carry the day. So really, all of these devious accounting tricks deserve an affected 'huh' in response, and no more.

    And while I'm bookmarking the odd budget stuff, Max Sawicky has a handy FAQ on the budget on his weblog. What's a debt? What's a deficit? Would that we knew, from time to time...
    -- Brad Plumer 11:04 PM || ||