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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FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH #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 26th, 2011

The More they Trust You the Easier it is to Lie to Them

People lie for one reason.  They don’t want you to hear the truth. Sometimes it’s done with good intentions.  “No, those jeans don’t make your butt look big.”  Most times it’s not.  “I am not having an affair.  And I can explain those earrings you found in the backseat.  And the underwear that’s not yours.  Just give me a minute.”

The truth about lying is the truth.  And someone’s attempt to hide it.  A husband doesn’t tell his wife about an affair.  Because he doesn’t want his wife to know about the affair.  For a variety of reasons.  But mostly so he can keep having the affair.

And this is why people lie.  To continue doing something they couldn’t otherwise do.  By misleading those people who know them.  Who love them.  Who trust them.  And the funny thing is, the more they trust you the easier it is to lie to them.  “Look, honey, I didn’t want to say anything before.  But the rumor at work was that John and Mary were having an affair.  I didn’t believe it at first.  I mean, they’re both married.  And they’re more than just my coworkers.  They’re my friends.  Then one day John had to borrow my car.  So I lent it to him.  The next thing Bill tells me is that he sees John and Mary in my car turning into an alley.  Guess I know what they were doing in that alley.”

See?  Easy.

Good Lying is about Creative Language and Class Warfare

So if you’re into lying it’s best to get yourself into a position where lots of people trust you.  Like elected office.  Because for some reason people tend to trust anyone in government.  Far more than those evil greedy people in corporate America.  Or rich people in general.  Even though it’s a given that politicians lie.  It is an interesting dynamic.  How this inherently dishonest institution is trusted first then questioned about their honesty later.  Long after the scandals that follow them.  So how do they do it?  How do these liars get to be so trusted?

It’s all about creative language.  And class warfare.  You need to get people to hate each other.  And then you stoke those passions.  Keep them burning hot.  So they feel more than think.  For the less they think the more they’ll fall for your soaring rhetoric.  You say the rich should pay their fair share (even though they pay a disproportionate high percentage of taxes).  And that rich CEOs shouldn’t get tax breaks to fly around in their private jets (even though they use them for legitimate business purposes).  You cast yourself as the protector of the little guy against rich and corporate interests.  Even though you’re anything but.  But that’s how it’s done.  And no one does it better than liberal Democrats.

For they are the king of liars.  Ivy League educated.  Arrogant.  Pompous.  Filled with an air of all-knowing condescension.  They just brim with loathing and self-confidence.  They loath you and I who are not their equals.  And they believe that there is nothing that they can’t do.  And what do they want to do?  Tax and spend.  Control the economy.  And tell us how we should live.  In the enlightened world they envision.  Of course, this has not proven to be a successful political platform.  People don’t want to elect people like this.  So they lie about what they want.  And who they are.  With a creative use of language.

Twisting the Meanings of Words

No one likes paying taxes.  No one will vote for someone who says they’re going to raise their taxes.  Which is a bit of a problem for a tax and spend liberal.  So they don’t use the ‘T’ word.  No.  Instead, taxes are called ‘contributions’.  Or simply ‘revenue’.  Because contributions sound voluntary.  And revenue sounds kind of warm and fuzzy.  In the business world, raising revenue is a good thing.  And they hate taxes in the business world.  Just like you.  So you feel less threatened about talks to raise revenue than you do about talks to raise taxes.  Even though they are the same thing.

With ever growing deficits, some people are growing a little skittish about excessive government spending.  At least, the people paying the taxes.  Those people with jobs.  They don’t want to pay more in taxes.  And they’re getting a little nervous about the huge federal debt.  So the responsible side in them tells them to say ‘no’ to more spending.  So the tax and spend liberal uses the word ‘investment’ instead.  They say we need to invest in infrastructure to rebuild our aging roads and bridges (even though gasoline taxes already pay for this work).  That we need to invest in education and research to keep America on the forefront of technology (even though we already spend a fortune on these already).  Investing in our future?  Well, yes, that sounds good.  And perhaps we should.  So we agree not to cut these investments.  But we’ll still resist excessive government spending.  Even though these are the same thing.

You see, the tax and spend liberal looks at the economy differently.  They see all money belonging to them.  Including ours.  They let us work.  Earn a paycheck.  But your net pay is only the portion of their money they begrudgingly let you keep.  In fact, what they don’t tax away from you they call government spending.  Or tax expenditures.  They’ll say things like, “We can’t afford to pay for these tax cuts.”  Of course, you don’t pay for ‘tax cuts’.  A tax cut is when the rightful owner of the money gets to keep it.  Instead of the government taking it away.  But calling this ‘government spending’ makes it easier to cut.  For cutting spending is a responsible thing to do.  But when they cut this spending they are actually raising taxes.  Clever, eh?  Talk about twisting the meaning of words.

Here are some other words and phrases they use and their translation:

  • Bipartisan = Republicans giving Democrats everything they want
  • Compromise = see bipartisan
  • Future spending cuts = no spending cuts
  • A balanced budget approach = higher taxes now and future spending cuts later (see future spending cuts above)
  • Get serious about deficit reduction = increase both spending and taxes
  • Blue ribbon panel/special commission = where you place an issue that you’re afraid to address
  • Failed policies of the past = the very successful policies of Reaganomics
  • Radical right wing = any Republican that doesn’t vote for more Democrat spending

 Republicans have Less to Hide

Liberal Democrats lie because no one wants what they’re selling.  But because they’re so much smarter than we are they’ve come up with a way to fool us.  By lying.  And using Orwellian language.  To make us accept things that we would normally not accept.

Just look at their campaigns.  And their language.  They campaign as moderates.  Then govern as liberals.  They want to raise our taxes.  But they don’t tell us that they want to raise our taxes.  Why?  Because taxpayers don’t share their Orwellian vision.  For if the people believed as they believed they would be honest.  But they don’t.  So they are less than honest.

Republicans, on the other hand, call ‘tax cuts’ tax cuts.  And ‘tax hikes’ tax hikes.  They run as conservatives.  And govern as conservatives.  Until they’re corrupted by Washington, at least.  But based on language usage alone even the most partisan hack would have to admit that the Republicans have less to hide.  And, therefore, govern more according to the will of the people.

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