December 6, 2012

“The Budget Baseline Con”

I linked this in my previous post, but just to make sure the information is laid out, allow me to quote from it here.  WSJ:

If the fiscal cliff talks make Lindsay Lohan look like a productive member of society, perhaps it’s because President Obama and John Boehner are playing by the dysfunctional Beltway rules. The rules work if you like bigger government, but Republicans need a new strategy, which starts by exposing the rigged game of “baseline budgeting.”

Both the White House and House Republicans are pretending that their goal is “reducing the deficit,” which they suggest means making real spending choices. They are talking about a “$4 trillion plan,” or something, regardless of how that number is reached.

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. Those wars are already being unwound and everyone knows the money will never be spent. But they are called “savings” to gull the public and make the deficit reduction add up to a large-sounding $4 trillion.

The baseline scam also exists in many states, and no less a Democrat than New York Governor Andrew Cuomo denounced it in 2011 as a “sham” and “deceptive.” He wrote in the New York Post that state spending was “dictated by hundreds of rates and formulas that are marbleized throughout New York State laws that govern different programs—formulas that have been built into the law over decades, without regard to fiscal realities, performance or accountability.” Then he proceeded to continue baseline budgeting.

And there’s the nub:  the politician like Cuomo know what’s going on. They also know that expressing public outrage over such things is likely enough to buy them the freedom to keep right on doing what it is they do.  Both parties engage in this manipulative dance.  And that’s because the whole oppositional party system has ceased to be, in any important sense:  the two parties pretend to fight over the size and scope of government, but the truth is, both parties benefit from the consolidation of federal power and additional revenues taken from taxpayers.  The rest is just a show — one that is used to keep us polarized politically and giving money to the party of our choice in order to defeat the party whose principles we oppose.

The contemporary GOP — at least at the leadership level — has no principles, however.  So they are as comfortable with promoting the con as are Democrats, who are more open about their desire to increase revenues by way of punitive taxes on wealth producers and job creators.


Republicans used to object to this game, but in recent years they seem to have given up. In an October 2010 speech at the American Enterprise Institute, House Speaker Boehner proposed that “we ought to start at square one” and rewrite the 1974 budget act. But he then dropped the idea, and in the current debate the GOP is putting itself at a major disadvantage by negotiating off the phony baseline. In a press release Tuesday, his own office advertised the need for “spending cuts” that aren’t even cuts.

Yes. And the same thing happened during the deal over debt ceiling increases, where the “cuts” were anything but, and even as cuts in the rate of growth, they were feckless — as we Hobbits pointed out at the time.

The Wall Street Journal at that time wanted us put in our place — sneering at our hidebound purity and political naivete.  So this time, they must really be spooked.

Let’s just hope it’s not too late.



Posted by Jeff G. @ 10:15am

Comments (18)

  1. The fight against baseline budgeting has been stymied by Harry Reid’s budget obstructionism. It seems to me the reliance on continuing resolutions the last few years has been a deliberate effort to preserve the baseline.

    As long as Reid sucks air, the Beltway GOP sees no point in opposing baseline budgeting in principle because they don’t see any way to win.

    Seems to me keeping any one Senator from having that much power might be a start.

  2. Just reading Steven Hayward’s description of his classroom experience at the Ashbrook Center, I note he says “Among other things about the Ashbrook approach that separates it from ordinary coursework is the emphasis on original source material. There are no textbooks. It’s more like the “great books” approach.” Instead of reading about James Madison, we read James Madison.”

    There are no textbooks.

    So I wonder whether teaching from textbooks — instead of grappling directly with original sources — isn’t rather like baseline budgeting itself? And consequently also a con of a sort.

  3. Harry Reid is just the public face of Democrat obstruction in the Senate, for the reason you just mentioned. Harry Reid could drop dead tomorrow, and Dick Durban would be just as awful.

    Telling the truth though marks you out as a puristy hairy-footed little bircher visigoth in need of silencing and side-shunting.

    That’s the real problem.

  4. Like any house of cards, it will collapse. It has too eventually. I can’t fathom any other scenario. Honest decreases in spending? Never. And with the previous stimulus monies now factored into the baseline, I think it’s time to stick in fork in it. Or is that too pessimistic?

  5. Harry Reid could drop dead tomorrow, and Dick Durban would be just as awful.

    Depends on how it were to happen, I suppose. A lightning bolt indoors might send Durbin a different message.

  6. Cranky-d starts working furiously on his indoor lightning generator.

  7. Set up a Kickstarter account if you need to, Cranky.

  8. Senator Jim DeMint is leaving the Senate the first of the year. Senator DeMint is resigning his seat. Make of that what you will.

  9. If we’re fighting to take back our language, then perhaps we should encourage our representatives to to defend themselves accordingly. “We fully support baseline budgeting. It’s just that our baseline is zero.”

  10. Our representatives would do that, Squid. Unfortunately, there are very few people in Congress representing us. There are, of course, a truckload of assholes who purport to represent us, but that’s a fiction.

  11. Remember Einstein’s aphorism about insanity? And yet the American people keep sending 90+% of incumbents back every two years.

  12. jentherube trashes demint


  13. jentherube trashes demint

    She trashes every conservative. She’s a double agent, is my belief.

  14. she’s proggtard rethug like mccain

  15. mccain is coward proggtard 1.62% i think

    with a weirdo libya fetish

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