LESSONS LEARNED #76: “You know they’re governing against the will of the people when they play with the meaning of words to fool the people.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 28th, 2011

When is a Spending Cut an Increase in Spending? 

I have a riddle for you.  When is a spending cut an increase in spending?  “Well, that’s when…, hey, wait minute,” you say.  “That’s not a riddle.  That’s a paradox.  It’s like saying draw a square circle.  Or a name an objective journalist.  You just can’t do these things.  Just as a ‘cut’ can’t be an ‘increase’.  They are the very opposite of each other.”

Yeah, you would think.  Not that much of a riddle, then, is it?  For a true riddle is solvable.  Or should be.  Like, say, I have two coins that add up to thirty cents.  One of them isn’t a nickel.  What are they?  You’re a bit stymied, aren’t you.  Because a quarter and a nickel are the only two coins that add up to thirty cents.  So what’s the answer?  A quarter and a nickel.  “But you said one of them wasn’t a nickel,” you say.  “Right,” I say.  “One of them isn’t a nickel.  But the other one is.”

Now that’s a riddle.  Clever.  But solvable.  So now back to my first riddle.  When is a spending cut an increase in spending?  The answer is when you use baseline budgeting.

The Power of Baseline Budgeting

Politicians lie.  And they love to spend our money.  Put the two together and what do you get?  Baseline budgeting.   Which in a nutshell is government spending on autopilot.  Next year’s spending is this year’s spending plus a little extra.  That ‘little extra’ is the amount in all budget negotiations. 

For example, let’s say there is an item in the budget with a billion dollar budget amount this year.  That’s the baseline.  That’s where we start budgeting for next year.  Next year’s budget will be one billion dollars plus or minus that ‘extra amount’.

Typically they set this ‘extra amount’ to be equal to or greater than the rate of inflation.  And/or changes in legislation for that budgetary item.  Let’s say there is no change in the program legislation.  And they set the program’s budget so that next year’s budget equals this year’s budget plus 10%.  So this budget item will be $1 billion this year.  And $1.1 billion next year.  Projecting this out for 10 years, this will automatically add $1.36 billion to this budgetary item.

In Baseline Budgeting a Spending Cut is an Increase in Spending

A couple of things should jump out at you.  For one you see why government programs never die.  Once they add them to the budget they stay in the budget.  And grow.  Always.  Forever.  And the bigger the starting budget amount the bigger the program will grow over time.  Again, automatically.  So you can see why baseline budgeting has been a godsend to Big Government.  It guarantees the growth of government.  Now.  And forever.

Now let’s look at a spending cut.  Let’s say spending is getting out of control.  Deficits are growing.  (As hard as that is to imagine.)  So there’s a budget deal to ‘cut’ the budget by 2%.  But this is a 2% cut in baseline budgeting.  So we’re not reducing the budget amount.  We’re only reducing the amount above the baseline.  Spending was going to increase 10% the following year.  But with this 2% cut, that 10% increase becomes only an 8% increase. 

This is where the language play comes in.  The budget is increased by 8%.  But in baseline budgeting it is a 2% decrease.  Instead of increasing the budget by $100 million, they only increase it by $80 million.  The budget is increased by $80 million but they count it as a $20 million cut.  Because future spending was cut $20 million.  So it’s a cut even though no spending was actually cut.  Spending still increases.  Just not as much as previously budgeted.  And that’s the wonderful world of baseline budgeting.  Where a spending cut increases spending.

The Government Shutdown of 1995 and 1996 

When CBO takes these projections out to 10 years it makes these spending ‘cuts’ look draconian.  As originally budgeted, this item would have been increased by $1.36 billion over 10 years.  Because of the reduction in the size of future spending, it will only increase $1 billion over 10 years.  But instead of calling this a $1 billion increase (which it is), they will call it a draconian cut of $359 million (which it isn’t).  Instead of saying this budget item will increase by 99.9% (which it will), they say it will be cut by 26.4% (which it obviously won’t).  Now politicians understand this baseline doublespeak.  But the average American doesn’t.  They hear ‘26.4%’ cut in some program for single mothers or hungry children and think what vicious, heartless bastards Republicans are.

And this was the stage for the government shutdown of 1995 and 1996Bill Clinton campaigned as a moderate in the 1992 presidential election.  After winning, though, he governed as a tax and spend liberal.  The people expressed their disapproval and gave both houses of Congress to the Republicans in the 1994 midterm electionsNewt Gingrich became Speaker of the House.  Gingrich and the Republicans saw their election as a mandate to stop the out of control government spending.  And that’s what they were trying to do in the budget battles beginning in 1995.

The Republicans were trying to reduce the rate of growth of government spending per the will of the people.  Spending would still increase.  But at a slower rate.  Clinton, though, fought against the will of the people.  Using baseline budgeting newspeak to mislead the people.  Clinton called these reductions in growth rates draconian spending cuts.  Even though there were no real cuts in spending.  But being a tax and spend liberal, he wasn’t about to cut the rate of growth.  So they squared off in budget battle.  It all came to a head when the government hit its borrowing limit.  The Republicans tried to get some spending cuts in exchange for increasing the debt ceiling.  Clinton refused.  Unable to pay its bills, the government shutdown.  And the United States collapsed.

Baseline Budgeting helps you Govern against the Will of the People

Not really.  Few people even noticed the shutdown.  Everyone still went to work.  Collected their pay (unless you worked in a national park).  And life went on.  Social Security checks went out.  Interest on the national debt was paid.  The credit rating on U.S. sovereign debt remained AAA.  So there was little damage.  Clinton came out okay from the crisis.  Newt Gingrich not so well.  Many believe that this helped Clinton’s reelection in 1996.  Of course a lot of that had to do with Dick Morris.  Who pulled Clinton to the center.  And became the moderate the people thought they elected.

Clinton may have won reelection, but he paid a price.   Republicans still held both houses of Congress.  Who ultimately won in the long-run.  Their Balanced Budget Act of 1997 did cut the growth rate of government spending.  And then the dot-com boom of the late Nineties produced a windfall of tax revenue that, with the ‘spending cuts’ of the Balanced Budget Act, actually balanced the budget.  For a few years.  But it turned out that the dot-com boom was actually a dot-com bubble.  Thanks to a lot of irrational exuberance.  And the bubble popped.  With the resulting recession tax revenue fell.  And those balanced budgets were no more.

Unwilling to concede to the will of the people, Clinton played with the meaning of words.  Called a spending increase a spending cut.  Because he knew the average American didn’t understand baseline budgeting.  And politicians continue to this day scaring people about draconian spending cuts where there are no spending cuts.  Not in the world of baseline budgeting.  Which makes it easy for them to continue to govern against the will of the people.  As they continue to do.  As they always have done.  Because nothing is more important than growing government.  And spending as much of our money as possible before we get a chance to spend it ourselves.

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LESSONS LEARNED #38: “Repeating a lie doesn’t make it true.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 4th, 2010

Liars Lie

Lying works.  Political spin.  Poetic license.  Fibbing.  Slander.  Libel.  Call it what you’d like.  Politicians lie.  Because it works.  Especially when you can’t win in the arena of ideas.  If they can’t win the philosophical debate what do our politicians do?  Attack the messenger, not the message.  If the history doesn’t validate their policies what do they do?  Revise history.  It never changes.  The only thing that does is the people hearing the lies.

Presidents may dream, but the House of Representatives controls the purse.  That’s why there are numerous battles between Capitol Hill and the White House.  Between Speakers of the House and presidents.  Some of the big partisan battles in recent times?  Tip O’Neil and Ronald Reagan.  Tom Foley and George H.W. Bush.  Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton.  Nancy Pelosi and George W. Bush.  When different political parties hold the White House and the Hill, the partisanship escalates.  And the lies get more brazen.  Especially on the political fringe.

Some lies bordered on the ridiculous.  Like Ronald Reagan created AIDS to kill homosexuals.  That George H. W. Bush flew to Iran on an SR-71 to meet secretly with the Iranians during the 1980 presidential campaign.  Why?  To negotiate with the Iranians to keep the American hostages until after the election.  That George W. Bush blew up the Twin Towers to start a war that would let him invade Iraq.  No doubt there was some political damage from these lies.  But the lasting damage from these ridiculous lies pale in comparison to the Big Lies that the Left perpetuates to this day.

Trickle-Down Economics

Ronald Reagan was president from 1981 until 1989.  When he entered office, the economy was in the toilet.  Double digit inflation.  Double digit interest rates.  Unemployment at 7.1%.  Reagan wanted to cut taxes and spending.  The Democrat controlled Congress wanted to increase federal spending to ‘stimulate’ the economy (ala Keynesian economics).  The Congress fought him.  But Reagan used the bully pulpit and appealed directly to the American people.  They liked his message which brought pressure down on Congress.  They gave a little.  Reagan got his tax cuts.  The top marginal rate went from 70% down to 28% by the time he left office.  The result?  The economy boomed.  They call it the Decade of Greed.  Because we were very materialistic and greedy.  And people lived well.

Yes, but at what cost?  That’s what the Left always says to refute Reaganomics.  What they deride as trickle-down economics.  They point to military spending.  They point to Reagan’s deficit spending.  And the growing federal debt.  The Left says this is what Reagan’s tax cuts have given us.  Growth and prosperity at the expense of future generations.  Which is perhaps the greatest lie of the 20th century.  But because the Left has repeated it so often, a lot of people accept it as fact.  Even though the numbers refute this grand lie.

When Reagan entered office, federal tax receipts were $517 billion.  When he left office in 1989, federal tax receipts were $991 billion.  This is an increase of 91.7%.  Or, to look at in another way, tax receipts in 1989 were 1.9 times the amount they were in 1980.  That’s almost double.  So, despite the great lie of the 20th century, Ronald Reagan’s tax cuts did NOT cause deficits or increase the debt.  Cuts in the tax rates brought MORE money into the federal treasury.  Excessive federal spending caused the deficits.  Federal spending increased from $590.9 billion in 1980 to $1,143.7 billion in 1989.  That’s a 93.6% increase.  Spending, too, almost doubled.  In other words, spending increased 1.9% more than tax receipts by the end of Reagan’s second term.  Washington was awash in money.  They just spent it faster than it came in.

Blame the excessive spending on Cold War defense spending or domestic spending.  The point is moot.  Because it doesn’t change the fundamental truth that Reagan’s tax cuts INCREASED federal tax receipts.  Or the lesson learned that tax cuts stimulate the economy.  Anyone saying otherwise is lying and trying to revise history.

Wither on the Vine

The Reagan decade ended prosperously.  Reaganomics were a success.  Which was a threat to those with a vested interest in Big Government.  But people liked Reagan.  And only agreed to vote for George H.W. Bush when he made the infamous ‘read my lips – no new taxes’ campaign pledge.  But Bush was no Reagan.  He wasn’t as conservative.  Or as charismatic.  He couldn’t sell conservative America (center-right) his less than conservative policies (center-left).  The Left, seeing he was no Reagan, maneuvered him into a position favorable to them on the deficit.  The Republicans wanted to cut spending.  The Democrats, of course, wanted to raise taxes.  And with the Democrats in control of the House, he caved.  He raised taxes.  And when he did, he became a one-term president.  The American people were so angry when he reneged on his ‘read my lips – no new taxes’ pledge, the third party candidate in the 1992 presidential campaign, Ross Perot, got 18.9% of the popular vote.  No third party candidate did better.  Exit polling shows he drew equally from both Bush and Clinton, though only 20% of his voters were liberal.  The rest were conservatives and moderates.  Perot brought a carnival atmosphere to the campaign.  Charts and props made for good TV.  This spectacle, though, drew critical attention away from Clinton’s past.  Parts of which moderates would have found objectionable.

Clinton ran as a centrist.  He lied.  As liberals are wont to do during a campaign in a center-right country.  Once in office, he swung to the left.  The American people were angry.  As people are wont to be when lied to.  At the 1994 midterm elections, the people spoke.  And gave both houses of Congress to the Republicans.  Newt Gingrich became the Speaker of the House.  He co-authored the Contract with America which was a Republican pledge to return America to a conservative path.  It appealed to the American people.  It’s what swept the Republicans into power.  And it scared the Left.  So they attacked it.  Called it the Contract on America.  And they attacked Newt Gingrich.  With a vengeance.

In 1995, Gingrich discussed an alternative to Medicare.  Number crunchers projected Medicare (and Social Security) to go into the red a decade or two out.  Medicare (and Social Security) is a big federal expenditure and a political third rail.  The Left uses the elderly as political pawns whenever they can.  Because that’s what Big Government does.  Get people dependent on Big Government and then scare the hell out of them by saying the Right wants to take their benefits away.  Gingrich was discussing high-deductible health insurance plans and tax free Medical Savings Accounts (MSAs).  The MSAs included an annual federal subsidy for seniors.  The plan would be appealing to seniors, Gingrich thought, because they could get better health care coverage with a private plan.  The MSAs and the federal subsidies would make it affordable.  Better care without paying more.  Who wouldn’t want that?  Once people made this choice voluntarily, they would move out of Medicare into a private plan.  Those comments in 1995 included this:

What do you think the Health Care Financing Administration is? It’s a centralized command bureaucracy. . . . Now, we don’t get rid of it in round one because we don’t think that that’s politically smart and we don’t think that that’s the right way to go through a transition. But we believe it’s going to wither on the vine because we think people are voluntarily going to leave it — voluntarily.

Wither on a vine?  Talk about a hanging softball.  There was no way the Democrats weren’t going to whack that one out of the park.  It quickly became ‘Medicare benefits’ and NOT the inefficient ‘centralized command bureaucracy’ that was going to wither on the vine.  The Left ran with it.  Another grand lie.  Repeated it at nauseam.  And scared the seniors.  Gingrich’s days were numbered.  And Clinton had a new enemy to demonize.  Which came in handy when no one wanted his policies.

The Lies that Keep on Giving

Big Government depends on getting as many people dependent on government as possible.  Medicare (and Social Security) is one program that does this very well.  And when Gingrich dared to threaten it, they destroyed him.  With a grand lie.  Like the grand lie that tax cuts stimulate deficits, not the economy.  Perpetuating these lies enables unsustainable government spending.  Threatens the future of all Americans.  And the longer it takes for the truth to come out, the deeper the hole we dig ourselves into.

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