One budget compromise, two sets of books

The only thing that’s certain in the Great Government Shutdown Showdown-ending budget compromise is that neither the left nor the right like it much. That’s just about the only thing the two sides agree on. 

On the numbers, we have two realities at work. There’s the reality of liberal critics like Ezra Klein, who breaks down the numbers this way:

Here’s what we know about the budget deal struck on Friday: 1) It cut $38.5 billion if you use our spending in 2010 as the starting point. That’s $78.5 billion below what President Obama asked for in his 2011 budget, $6.5 billion below what Speaker John Boehner demanded in his opening bid, but about $20 billion more than the Tea Party wanted.

Wait, the “tea party” was only looking for $18.5 billion in budget cuts this year? I totally respect Ezra Klein, but I don’t think that’s all the tea party was looking for. Let’s go to … ugh … holding my nose … RedState for Erick Von Erickson’s version of events:

Friday night the Republicans and Democrats reached a deal to avoid a government shutdown. The Republicans had promised $100 billion in cuts. They back pedaled to $61 billion in cuts. They have actually agreed to $38.5 billion in cuts, or about four days worth of spending by the federal government.

This is, believe it or not, the version of events as I remember it, too. Republicans started with their “Pledge to America,” which vowed $100 billion in cuts, not over two years, but this fiscal year, ending in September. A flashback, courtesy of an unhappy GOPer (and be sure to check the comments after the post – brutal):

You can’t spend money that does not exist, and if we’re going to rip Obama for breaking his word then it’s only fair that we rip Boehner. Put another way, what’s good for Obama is good for Oboehner. He settled for 38.5 billion in cuts. Pledge broken:

With common-sense exceptions for seniors, veterans, and our troops, we will roll back government spending to pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels, saving us at least $100 billion in the first year alone and putting us on a path to balance the budget and pay down the debt. We will also establish strict budget caps to limit federal spending from this point forward. (GOP Pledge to America, September 23, 2010)

And apparently, the incoming tea party freshmen expected the same. They went into outright rebellion in February when Paul Ryan, the GOP’s budget cutter in chief, came out with a budget that insufficiently slashed government this year, forcing Boehner and the Republican leadership into a hasty retreat. From the National Review in February:

House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R., Ky.) has announced that the continuing resolution coming out of his committee — and likely to the floor sometime next week — will contain $100 billion worth of spending cuts for the remainder of the fiscal year (through September). This marks a significant political victory for House conservatives like Reps. Jeff Flake (R., Ariz.), RSC chairman Jim Jordan (R., Ohio), and freshman members who insisted that the cuts previously announced by party leadership were insufficient.

“After meeting with my subcommittee Chairs, we have determined that the CR can and will reach a total of $100 billion in cuts compared to the President’s request immediately — fully meeting the goal outlined in the Republican ‘Pledge to America’ in one fell swoop,” Rogers said in a statement. “Our intent is to make deep but manageable cuts in nearly every area of government, leaving no stone unturned and allowing no agency or program to be held sacred. I have instructed my committee to include these deeper cuts, and we are continuing to work to complete this critical legislation.”

So why the divergence in numbers? It all depends on what the meaning of “year” is…

Let’s go back to February, when the 87 tea party freshmen were battling their own leadership over their demand that they get the full $100 billion in cuts they ran on. From The Hill, back on February 11th:

The GOP leaders were going to present a measure funding the government for the rest of the fiscal year that would cut spending by $74 billion from President Obama’s budget request last year. Obama’s budget was never enacted, so the GOP’s initial plan would have reduced current spending by $32 billion.

Tea Party freshman balked, saying they wouldn’t accept cuts less than $100 billion from Obama’s budget request. The new plan would cut about $58 billion from current spending.

Latham added that it is also important to keep your word, and he understands where freshmen are coming from.

He also said the dispute between leadership and freshmen arose over “a matter of interpretation” over what the Pledge to America meant when it said the GOP would cut spending to 2008 levels in the first year.

Freshmen, he said, take that to mean the final seven months of fiscal 2011. Leadership believes it means the GOP’s whole first year in office, which would include the first three months of the next fiscal year.

Latham also said that the leadership version of the bill had a better chance of being accepted by the Senate and becoming law, and this was a reason to back it. He said the new, deeper cuts risk a situation where only a funding measure at the 2010 level remains in place once the Senate blocks the bill.

The House eventually passed HR1, which proposed $61 billion in cuts in the current fiscal year – higher than the House leadership proposal. The Wall Street Journal at the time also described it as a proposed cut from current spending levels, not a $61 billion cut versus Obama’s budget.

What ultimately passed – $38.5 billion, was indeed, as Klein put it, “$6.5 billion higher than what the GOP leadership’s original plan would have netted out to, given that the Obama budget was never enacted. But I don’t see how it is $20 billion higher than what the tea party wanted.

I think what we have here is a difference in interpretation. The tea party freshmen wanted $100 billion cut out of this year’s spending, not the Obama budget that never was. As tea party folks are interpreting it, the bill that passed was a cowardly retreat from $100 billion, not a $20 billion bonus.

Comparing Obama’s opening bid — his budget — to the final outcome, strikes me as unfair, given the fact that much like HR1, Obama’s budget never had a chance of becoming law. You can, and Klein and other liberals do, use the comparison to criticize the White House’s negotiation skills (they started out at X and wound up at -X) but on the tea party side of the equation, they’re doing the same math: the tea party freshmen were promised $100 billion from current spending, and all they got was $38.5.

I guess it all depends on whether you’re comparing the $38.5 billion to Obama’s never-was budget, or to the current, 2010 spending that is. Or am I missing something?

Back to Col Von Erickson, who laments the deal this way:

The most depressing bit of all of this is how quickly conservative pundits who promised they were to going to throw off the shackles of fidelity to the Republican Party after Bush and become again true conservative warriors for freedom have descended, automaton like, into guttural cheerleading for a Republican Party that just went from $100 billion in promised cuts to a third of that in actual cuts while selling out the unborn for roughly $1000 per murdered child assuming reports are true that they got the Democrats to increase cuts $1 billion in exchange for dropping the defunding of Planned Parenthood.

God knows if there is one lesson for the Republican leaders in this, it is that they can promise the moon, deliver dirt, and the sycophantic conservative media will pop fireworks, fly American flags, and proclaim that dirt the second coming of Jesus Christ.

It’s embarrassing really. The deal is not terrible, but it is not nearly as good as some would have you believe. For starters, that $38.5 billion is total for the year not an additional cut on top of what was already cut.

And even in declaring victory for his side, the WSJ editors say this:

Yes, we know, $39 billion in spending cuts for 2011 is less than the $61 billion passed by the House and shrinks the overall federal budget by only a little more than 1%. The compromise also doesn’t repeal ObamaCare, kill the EPA’s anticarbon rules, defund Planned Parenthood, reform the entitlement state, or part the Red Sea.

On the other hand, the Obama-Pelosi Leviathan wasn’t built in a day, and it won’t be cut down to size in one budget. Especially not in a fiscal year that only has six months left and with Democrats running the Senate and White House. Friday’s deal cuts more spending in any single year than we can remember, $78 billion more than President Obama first proposed. Domestic discretionary spending grew by 6% in 2008, 11% in 2009 and 14% in 2010, but this year will fall by 4%. That’s no small reversal.

I guess it’s all a matter of interpretation. But in the end, what’s clear is that neither left nor tea party right is happy with this deal.

And now, also from Ezra Klein, a really good graph.

This entry was posted in 112th Congress, John Boehner, Opinion, People, Politics, President Barack Obama, Tea Party Movement, Tea Party Movement, The Economy and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to One budget compromise, two sets of books

  1. Check out the Progressive Congress People's Budget http://www.huff​​jeffrey-sachs/t​he-peoples-budg​et_b_846573.htm​l It kills the deficit and ends foreign wars.

  2. Check out the Progressive Congress People's Budget It kills the deficit and ends foreign wars.

  3. Now the Administration has a plan we've seen the playbook. First we concede the high ground… then we march backward leaving our friends high and dry and give away the agenda and concede every republican talking point. And then conclude by declare a victory for COOPERATION… then give the rich another tax break.solidarity & peace

  4. Well, I’m of the school that says the best defense is having the best offense, so I think the ‘compromise’ sucks, bad. But I was scratching my head over Klein’s numbers too. I put it down to my great mastery of language and my miserable failure with math. Maybe Ezra needs to explain it to me like I’m stupid. :-)

  5. Tammy says:

    This is GOVERNING. That requires compromise and knowing you won’t get everything you want. The left has to learn it and so does the right. Unfortunately, Boehner is too cowardly to stand up to the rabid tea right and explain this to people that really don’t understand the process of governing and what it means to control only one branch of government. Instead, Boehner is playing to this crowd and that’s setting them up for a huge disappointment.

    There was absolutely NO WAY they would get 100B in cuts. NONE. And the nonsense about defunding Planned Parenthood, NPR and “ObamaCare”? Please. These people are nuts if they actually thought that was going to happen.

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