Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity
  @GlennKesslerWP  |   Facebook  | Contact:  |  RSS Feeds RSS
Posted at 6:00 AM ET, 02/24/2011

Harry Reid's illusory $41 billion in budget cuts

By Glenn Kessler

"We've already proposed $41 billion in cuts. So for the Republicans to say we're not cutting anything, they're being disingenuous and unfair and really not very truthful."
--Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), Feb. 23, 2011

Congress is in a budget-cutting frenzy.

With a March 4 expiration of a stopgap government-funding bill looming, both sides are jockeying for position, eager to avoid blame for a government shutdown if no deal is reached.

The GOP-led House of Representatives last week passed a bill that would cut $61 billion in spending in this year's budget, and now Senate Democrats feel the pressure to show that they too are serious about reining in spending. (Few question anymore whether it makes sense to cut federal spending as the nation struggles to emerge from a recession, but that's another story.)

The way Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid frames it, there does not appear to be much difference between the two sides: $41 billion in cuts vs. $61 billion in cuts. But nothing is ever simple when politicians are spouting budget figures.

The Facts

There are really three different budgets in play now, and people in Congress mislead by mixing them up.

There is the fiscal year 2012 budget, which starts in October. President Obama this month submitted his blueprint for that. Let's put that aside for now.

Then there is the fiscal year 2011 budget, which started last October. Congress never passed the annual appropriations bills needed to fund that budget -- submitted by Obama last year -- so government spending has continued on at 2010 levels, with some adjustments. Republicans are demanding that some of those appropriations be rescinded now, even with just seven months left in the fiscal year, as part of an effort to get spending back to pre-stimulus, 2008 levels.

Finally, there is the fiscal year 2010 budget, which was passed into law and ended on Sept.30, 2010. But it remains important because current government spending has been set more or less according to the 2010 pace.

Also keep in mind that the proposed cuts are taking place in the discretionary-spending part of the budget -- just one-third of the overall budget pie. Congress each year sets spending for the discretionary programs, such as Cabinet agency funding. Mandatory-spending programs, such as Medicare and Social Security, continue at the same pace unless Congress changes the laws governing those programs.

So what is Reid talking about when he says Democrats have already proposed $41 billion in cuts? He's talking about the difference between what Obama proposed last year -- and was never enacted -- and 2010 spending. Or, to put it another way, he's talking about cutting spending that never happened.

Republicans can play the same game. House Republicans brag that the House bill passed last week cut spending by $100 billion. That also is from the levels proposed in the Obama budget. So an apples-to-apples comparison would be about $100 billion in cuts in the House vs. about $40 billion in the Senate, or $60 billion in the House vs. zero in the Senate. Either way, there's a gap of about $60 billion.

A Reid spokesman offers the GOP language as an excuse. "The $41 billion is off of President Obama's 2011 budget," Jon Summers said. "The GOP also factors this into their $100 billion, so clearly both sides consider this a cut."

(For complicated, technical reasons, the numbers do not precisely line up. The stopgap funding bill is a smidgen, about $2 billion, below 2010 levels. Overall, the president proposed spending $1.128 trillion on discretionary programs in 2011 and the House bill would spend just $1.027 trillion.)

Now, of course, just flat-lining spending year after year can be a cut of some magnitude. If a family spends $100 a week on food one year, and then inflation brings costs to $103 a week the next year, there is less money for other things if income remains the same. Similarly, inflation and population growth affect the cost of government programs. Over time, the best way to compare government spending over many years is calculating its share of gross domestic product, not just looking at raw numbers.

But Obama's 2011 budget was not trying to freeze spending at constant levels. According to the historical data listed in the 2012 budget, Obama proposed a real increase in spending from 2010 to 2011. In inflation-adjusted dollars, Obama proposed a boost of $43 billion in discretionary spending. As a percentage of the gross domestic product, discretionary spending would have climbed from 9.3 percent to 9.4 percent.

The Pinocchio Test

If Reid had stipulated he was talking about cuts from Obama's never-enacted budget, he might have been on more solid ground. But then he paired his statement with an attack on Republicans, claiming that for them "to say we're not cutting anything, they're being disingenuous and unfair and really not very truthful."

It is Reid who is being disingenuous and not very truthful. He is playing with figures to conjure up $41 billion in cuts that are largely illusory. The GOP may play the same games to bump up their figures, but two wrongs don't make a right -- and certainly the GOP can claim most of their cuts are real.

Two Pinocchios

(About our rating scale).

UPDATE, 9:30 AM:
Summers, the Reid spokesman, says Reid has not compared the $41 billion figure to the $61 billion figure. We don't think this article says that. The paragraph above, starting "The way Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid frames it...," was referring to the confusion readers might have when they hear Reid speak of $41 billion in cuts while newspaper headlines refer to $61 billion in cuts by House Republicans. Virtually no major news organization ran stories saying House Republicans cut $100 billion.

Follow The Fact Checker on Twitter and friend us on Facebook

By Glenn Kessler  | February 24, 2011; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  2 Pinocchios, Economy, Harry Reid  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Obama's 'Apology Tour'
Next: Lessons from the great government shutdown of 1995-1996


dems will lie to spend what we don't have...

Posted by: DwightCollins | February 24, 2011 6:20 AM | Report abuse

how about employing more people and raising revenue from their taxes...
until you get more revenue from new workers...
the goverment must go on a diet...

Posted by: DwightCollins | February 24, 2011 6:21 AM | Report abuse

Harry Reid : A Prune-Faced Puke who arrived in Washington without 2 nickles to rub together , and has amassed a small fortune by selling what little soul he had to begin with, to the highest bidder . He was about to be finally put out to pasture to spend all the millions he amassed with his crooked career , but a funny thing happened on the way to the Troth. He remembered the Hispanic Vote , and a few chits he could call in from the S.E.I.U. So, he grabbed every Illegal Mexican he could find in the nearest hoosegow, and promised them that their kids would get a free College education if they served in the Military, and that he would work tirelessly for Amnesty for them . This is a guy who had the audacity to say he left a lucrative " Law Practice " to run to Washington to better the lives of Real Americans in their quest for Justice in the Political Arena . You know ; I think it won't be a case of God judging people like Harry for all his lies , but for his Audacity to say them with a straight face and his Arrogance in thinking he can fool us and God, as he does it.

Posted by: puck-101 | February 24, 2011 6:34 AM | Report abuse

I for one have no faith that the people that caused this deficit will fix it ....... come on, anyone still trust these career politicians from either political party??

This country is no longer, a Democracy but a Cashrarocy!!
Best government that money can buy!!

TERM LIMITS........long over due!

Posted by: bkarpus | February 24, 2011 6:43 AM | Report abuse

Budget season has to be like Christmas for the Fact Checker. The Pinocchios seem to be flying around faster right now than during election season.

Posted by: blert | February 24, 2011 7:10 AM | Report abuse

LOL...your last paragraph clearly shows that in spite of Reid's fabrication and prevarications, you still have to be negative towards the Republicans, as if they forced Harry to show his true duplicitous self once again.

Americans need to ask: Why is a liar and political fraud like Reid still Majority Leader?

Posted by: Hazmat77 | February 24, 2011 7:22 AM | Report abuse

A politician being disingenuous....I would never have believed it!

Stupidity aside and there is lots to go around, when we the people do a budget we can list real items to cut or not. There is nothing fictitious or buried in some other document. Its simple...our family want certain things in life, as do the U.S citizens, we have a defined amount of money, we make our budget to live within our income. We factor in loans we can afford to pay and ....that is what we live with.

If politicians cannot do this math because this is just monopoly money to them, then we have to get rid of them. People are rising up around the world with enough is enough attitude....its time we did this to our politicians.

Posted by: taylordon | February 24, 2011 7:28 AM | Report abuse

Okay Dingy grabs a figure out of thin air, so what, so me proof Harry. But let's get to the meat of the matter. Dingy said in the Senate just the other day that he wants of BAN Brothels in Nevada, WHAT! Harry you don't have better things to work on? But anyway let's think like a liberal. Don't ban brothels, tax them, mo money mo money mo money... LOL!!!! We can call it the POONTANG TAX.

Posted by: vatownsend1 | February 24, 2011 7:29 AM | Report abuse

Reid can't help himself, he is a sad, pathetic excuse for a human being. Thanks Nevada..

Posted by: wewintheylose1 | February 24, 2011 7:50 AM | Report abuse

Why is the REPUBLICAN cuts all middle class or so it seams
Republicans should cut a equal amount from they pets PROJECTS then it could be real cuts



Posted by: theoldmansays | February 24, 2011 8:42 AM | Report abuse

So, any guesses as to whether Reid and/or Obama will shutdown the government?


Posted by: illogicbuster | February 24, 2011 8:50 AM | Report abuse

"It is Reid who is being disingenuous and not very truthful. He is playing with figures to conjure up $41 billion in cuts that are largely illusory. "

How do you figure two pinocchios? This should have been three pinocchios, easily.

Posted by: postfan1 | February 24, 2011 8:54 AM | Report abuse

The term 'discretionary spending' was used two different ways in the column. To wit:

" the discretionary-spending part of the budget -- just 12 percent of the overall budget pie."

Later mentions quote discretionary spending figures of about $1.1 trillion and 9.3% of GDP.

12 percent of the budget (~$3.6T) is about $450 billion, not $1.1 trillion.

9.3% of GDP (~$14T) is about $1.1 trillion. A match.

I think the first figure - 12 percent of the budget pie - is NONSECURITY discretionary spending. The second looks like a correct TOTAL discretionary spending figure.

I assume the 'budget' and the 'overall budget pie' mean the same thing.

I think this merits a correction.

Posted by: angrydoug1 | February 24, 2011 9:14 AM | Report abuse

Harry Ried is a liar and fool. He is a prime example why the Dems lost so many seats this past election. He would have lost his too had the Casino's not paid for him yet again. Just like others that infested congress for the past 6 years, his answer to everything is more welfare programs hoping to buy off voters but he is to stupid to realize that American voters have woken up and are watching everything all the politicans are doing in Washington and the State goverments. If they arren't supporting what we want, we will fire them can get someone who will. (Of Caourse Nevada and Northern California may be the exception since the have the Illegal Alien vote)

Posted by: Hopinghere2 | February 24, 2011 9:20 AM | Report abuse


Thanks for the diligent reading. I had moved around some sentences and had not updated the percentage I was discussing. You should be my editor! It's fixed now.

Posted by: glennkessler | February 24, 2011 9:59 AM | Report abuse

Republicans Raised the Deficit by $8 Billion a year with Tax Cuts for the Rich and now want take it away from the rest of the population.

Lying Liars don't change the Facts!

Posted by: ddoiron1 | February 24, 2011 10:45 AM | Report abuse

A leftist lies? Say it ain't so..

Posted by: wewintheylose1 | February 24, 2011 11:39 AM | Report abuse

President Obama's 2012 budget contains a $1.101 trillion deficit. Who cares about $41 billion? Is he seriously going to break his arm patting himself on the back over whittling away 3.7% of the Obama budget deficit?

Harry Reid seems to have embraced the Greek Model of Fiscal Responsibility.

Posted by: afsljafweljkjlfe | February 24, 2011 12:49 PM | Report abuse

I love the fact checker because it truely shows how partisan the right is. If the fact checker dares calls out any conservative misdeeds or flat out lies well you get fire and brimstone from the right. You get insults. You get accusations that the fact checker is just another liberal rag. What you hardly ever get is detailed and well sourced challenge of why the fact checker is wrong.

Now that the fact checker is criticizing a democrate/liberal...lo and behold. He must be right. Every word in there must be true. The fact checker shows that those dastardly dems are at it again. No mention of bias.

It is such high comedy reading conservative's posts.

Anyhow....My take on the Harry Reid thing...He's a politician doing what politicians do...bend the numbers as much as you can to make sure they back your stance. I hate it when republicans do that and I hate it when dems do that. One side doing it shouldn't excuse you from doing a wrong.

Posted by: 6thsense79 | February 24, 2011 1:06 PM | Report abuse

puck101, get a life. You have an entire paragragh of trite rhetoric that has nothing to do with Harry Reid or reality. You've thrown in a dash of nonsense about SEIU, a sprinkling of bigotry about illegal immigrants, and even threw in God. To all of you overdone dingbats reiterating the same tired drivel ad nauseum: Give the sane world a break.

Unfortunately these people didn't even know what was going on in 2008, when our country was bled over 500,000 jobs in one month alone (December) and during that quarter we were plummeting - our economy was put in the toilet, and let's give credit where credit is due on that score.

During the Clinton administration, our country paid the debt and gained a surplus, which was done by Clinton, not by the Republican congress during that time. The Republican congress was demanding tax breaks uber alles (but especially to the rich) and corporate welfare, and what Clinton did was repudiate them. If that surplus had seen good stewardship and if venal, crooked Republican legislation that passed had not, then after he left office, we would still have money left.

But here is what happened: Gramm, Leach, and Bliley, all Republicans drafted legislation that allowed allowed the banks to consolidate with investment firms, mortgage brokers, and also allowed these consolidated institutions to take risky investments and wildly inflate properties and stocks while at the same time removing any requirements to maintain enough equity to cover those risks - thus exposing those assets to what occurred: A FREE-FALLING ECONOMIC DISASTER.

What else got us into this mess? Tax cuts uber alles, along with corporate welfare, no-bid contracts and an unsanctioned hamfisted misadventure in Iraq (not to mention all of the obsolete weaponry that got built instead of protective armor).

The Republicans may claim fiscal prudence or responsible stewardship but they haven't been THAT party since the 1800s. But worse, they have devolved into a bunch of batchit John Birch Society lunatics and bigots.

During the onslaught of this crisis, the Republicans acknowledged spending was necessary. Boehner even helped write the 1st stimulus bill, with 169 Republicans voting for it and only 25 against.

Too bad it was so poorly written that Wall St Execs were able to award themselves bonuses a few months later.

At least Obama's stimulus measures had assistance measures specifically aimed for the middle class provided for return revenues in dividends that helped pay it back.

The economy has improved since Obama took office, and he has brought us jobs (stop pretending 2008's last quarter didn't happen, teanuts; you might not have ever picked up a newspaper until a black man became president but the rest of us did read).

Our economy is being handled responsibly by President Obama who is cleaning up THEIR MESS.

Which doesn't give these sloppy snobs the right to malign him as they would their janitor.


Posted by: jKO2010 | February 24, 2011 1:11 PM | Report abuse

It's all the more pathetic in that they'd be piddly little cuts even IF he were being honest.

Posted by: andrew23boyle | February 24, 2011 1:12 PM | Report abuse

It is even simpler.
Reid wants a budget.
Boehner doesn't.
Spending bills are supposed to start in the House.
When the Republicans make one, let them submi6t it publicly.
Forget about backroom deals.
Democrats have learned that the word, of the Republican party, is not worth a Continental!
Clifford Spencer

Posted by: yankeefan1925 | February 24, 2011 4:12 PM | Report abuse

Harry, Harry, Harry you really need to stop using Obamao's teleprompter...the lies that thing tells are this case about 14 trillion and growing faster than sand in Nevada.

Posted by: NeoConVeteran | February 24, 2011 4:12 PM | Report abuse

Why is it that when Fact Checker checks up on a Democrat, certain posters slam the Democrat, but when Fact Checker checks up on a republican, the same posters slam the Washington Post?

Posted by: Rudesan | February 24, 2011 4:27 PM | Report abuse

We must all first understand how Senator Reid learned his math.
He was a lawyer and all they know how to do is bill there clients while having someone else sending out the statements.

Posted by: rteske | February 24, 2011 6:19 PM | Report abuse


Why doesn't his State insist there be an ethics review of him and put him in jail for allowing Rangel to continue, as an accessory to criminal activity?

Posted by: dottydo | February 24, 2011 9:45 PM | Report abuse

Preppers depression is the people unwilling to support this Fed forcing them to cut.
Move no money,to delete the Federal taxes annexed to it.
Earn no extra money by wasting your time at work for them to it take from you. Currently most Americans lose 55% of their income to taxes.

Put aside 2 years of supplies and get to a place where winter cannot freeze you out for 2 years.

Preppers networks are in every State to insure better survival when the depression hits in the next quarter.
Starve them out of excess faster, means the people are in control not the little Emperors.

If they will not repeal Obamacare it is over anyway. No business will keep and employee.

Posted by: dottydo | February 24, 2011 9:52 PM | Report abuse

Three words: campaign finance reform.

Until that happens congress will continue to be the home of legal bribery.

Posted by: biggerjake | February 25, 2011 1:57 AM | Report abuse

If Republicans cared about deficits, they'd take the hatchet to the trillions in welfare payments going to corporate welfare queens. They refuse to go after the billions in subsidies feeding Defense contractors, Big Pharma, Big Ag, Big Oil and all the Beltway Bandits who fund the RNC.

Republicans don't care about deficits; they care about funding Wall Street. The deficit is a weapon of mass distraction designed to slash popular programs while shielding their corporate masters from any shared sacrifice.

Posted by: LeoNoVA | February 25, 2011 4:08 PM | Report abuse

Remember. We do NOT want a balanced budget. We want a balanced budget with a plan to pay off the national debt. Be careful of the word budget. Congress redefines budget to hide spending and fool us.

Kick the incumbants (Reps and Dems) out in 2012!

Posted by: TLN2 | February 26, 2011 5:01 PM | Report abuse

Post a Comment

We encourage users to analyze, comment on and even challenge's articles, blogs, reviews and multimedia features.

User reviews and comments that include profanity or personal attacks or other inappropriate comments or material will be removed from the site. Additionally, entries that are unsigned or contain "signatures" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. Finally, we will take steps to block users who violate any of our posting standards, terms of use or privacy policies or any other policies governing this site. Please review the full rules governing commentaries and discussions.

characters remaining

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2011 The Washington Post Company