The Budget Baseline Con
How Washington fools the public about spending 'cuts.'
From the Wall Street Journal, December 4, 2012
Both the White House and House Republicans are pretending that their goal is "reducing the deficit," which they suggest means making real spending choices.
Here's the reality: Those numbers have no real meaning because they are conjured in the wilderness of mirrors that is the federal budget process. Since 1974, Capitol Hill's "baseline" has automatically increased spending every year according to Congressional Budget Office projections, which means before anyone has submitted a budget or cast a single vote. Tax and spending changes are then measured off that inflated baseline, not in absolute terms.
The most absurd current example is Mr. Obama's claim that his "$4 trillion" plan reduces the deficit by about $800 billion over 10 years by ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But those "savings," as he calls them, are measured against a White House budget office spending baseline that is fictional.
In Washington, Democrats designed this system to make it easier to defend annual spending increases and to portray any reduction in the baseline as a spending "cut." Chris Wallace called Timothy Geithner on this "gimmick" on "Fox News Sunday" this week, only to have the Treasury Secretary insist it's real.