“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.