Two budget dodges to watch for
Listening to the rhetoric surrounding the various budgets of Republicans and Democrats, a few things stand out: Republicans keep conflating cutting spending with cutting deficits. And it sounds to me like Democrats are banking on the fact that the public is a bit fuzzy on the difference between cutting the deficit and cutting the debt.
Take John Boehner. "We're broke," he said on Sunday's Meet the Press. "When are we going to get serious about cutting spending?" To be "not broke," however, you need the amount of money you're making to match the amount of money you're spending. Republicans want to cut spending, but they want to cut revenues even more: Just today, Mike Pence and Jim DeMint introduced the "Tax Relief Certainty Act," which would make the Bush tax cuts permanent. That would cost trillions of dollars, and they offer no offsets. It'd all just go on the national credit card. If you cut spending by $2 trillion and cut revenues by $4 trillion, not only are you still broke, but you're actually more broken than you where when you started.
Democrats, meanwhile, are talking about cutting annual deficits, but they're not talking about cutting total debt. That distinction occasionally gets lost, I think. When Sherrod Brown says, "the President’s budget proposal will put us on track to cut the deficit in half in his first term," it sounds like he's talking about the debt we've accumulated, not merely the borrowing we're going to do that year. But getting deficits down to three percentage points of GDP in 2017 doesn't mean that's all we've borrowed, or are paying off. It means that's all we're borrowing in 2017. This isn't necessarily a case of intended misdirection -- the language here is a bit imprecise -- but there's a reason you're hearing a lot of deficit numbers and very few debt numbers from the administration.
| February 14, 2011; 4:22 PM ET
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