Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics: The Federal Budget

The GOP grabbed headlines last week when the Republican majority in the House of Representatives pushed through its version of the federal budget with $61 billion “slashed” in discretionary federal programs. For most of us, that’s as close as we’ll get to understanding what lies beneath budget stories; thus, the GOP succeeded in scoring political points for delivering on its campaign promise to address the cavernous trillion-plus dollars in federal debt.

The budget cuts are probably little more than symbolic; however, as the budget heads to the Democratic-controlled Senate, the majority party will likely undo the GOP cuts, thus playing into the Republican’s strategy. You can write your own GOP soundbite afterward, but it will sound something like this: “We delivered on our promise to the American people to cut wasteful federal spending, but the ‘tax and spend’ Democrats can’t resist that twitch to spend.”

But the truth always lies somewhere else.

While the $61 billion budget “slashing” positioned the GOP as the party trying to grab the reins of a runaway deficit, it was really political smoke and mirrors as those cuts focused on just 12 percent of the overall federal budget. Left alone were the deep caverns few politicians dare to explore. For example, they not only left the Obama Administration’s $670 billion Department of Defense budget unscathed, but they added $8 billion back into that budget, even while the Secretary of Defense was campaigning against increases in his own department’s budget.

It’s hard for most of us to really visualize the scope of these numbers, but they are staggering and almost impossible to exaggerate. This link puts it into some perspective in an effort to help you understand what a mere billion dollars looks like. Each of these stacks on a pallet is made up of $100 bills.  

What a billion dollars looks like (in $100 bills).

The GOP just added another 64 of these pallets to the DoD budget. But just how big is the Defense budget? Someone recently pegged it at a spending rate of $1 million a minute.

The GOP budget cuts were hardly subtle. They went straight for bread-and-butter Democratic programs, entirely wiping out the AmeriCorps’ budget ($373 million) and the Democratic-leaning Corporation for Public Broadcasting (NPR) budget ($531 million). The strategy is simple: make the Democrats defend the “soft” spending programs while they add another $8 billion to the military to defend America.

One miscalculation in this thinking, however, is that while most voters certainly agree that we need a strong defense, the majority of voters don’t need to be convinced that the defense department is a leaking sieve that is funding hopelessly expensive programs that will probably never work. The other miscalculation is that there isn’t a constituency out here in the real world that cares about programs like AmeriCorps.

Massachusetts Service AllianceTell that to the folks at Jumpstart in Boston, a program funded through AmeriCorps and the Massachusetts Service Alliance, which matches nearly 500 college students in year-long relationships with preschool children in low-income communities to enhance literacy and social skills. That shouldn’t be a matter of political difference.

Fifty years ago, Dwight David Eisenhower, the decorated five-star general and 34th President of the United States, used his final address to the American people to warn against the geometric growth of military spending, a cozy and insidious relationship he called the military industrial complex that was gobbling up larger and larger shares of the federal budget.

“Throughout America’s adventure in free government,” Eisenhower said, “our basic purposes have been to keep the peace, to foster progress in human achievement, and to enhance liberty, dignity, and integrity among peoples and among nations. To strive for less would be unworthy of a free and religious people. Any failure traceable to arrogance, or our lack of comprehension, or readiness to sacrifice would inflict upon us grievous hurt, both at home and abroad.”

Securing our democracy isn’t just a measure of what we spend on weapons and soldiers, but how we prepare and protect our citizens at home with opportunities in education, job training, health care and basic human services.

Wiping out programs that help real people to heap billions more into our defense budget was precisely what Ike warned against 50 years ago.

And that warning was from a Republican president and genuine war hero who has no equal in this Congress.

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2 Responses to Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics: The Federal Budget

  1. Janice says:

    How about the real budget bloat–$860,000 for bottled water?!
    New stats about last year’s spending: http://gigabiting.com/?p=8111/

    • Janice — You got us talking here about all the little reservoirs of excessive spending in government alone (not that $860,000 is a small sum for water). There are a lot of places to cut without cutting into programs that actually benefit people and I would think that the Congress would do themselves and the institution a big service if they first found those areas that are easy to cut. Thanks for the comment.

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