Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Budget 2011: Reductio Ad Absurdum

It has been interesting to listen to the debate by the pundits over the spending cuts being proposed in the House for the remainder of fiscal 2011. I know that many of those on TV (especially cable news programs) are little more than out-of-work political operatives, desperate for a way to make a few bucks until the 2012 election season begins to wind up; but most of the greenhouse gases being produced in these sessions seemed little more than elaborate discussions of how many angels could dance on the head of a pin. 

But perhaps I'm getting a bit ahead of myself. Let's go back about six months when election season was in full swing and the Republicans were beginning to feel that they might be able to ride the Conservative wave into control of at least one House of Congress. The only thing that they needed to do was to prove to fiscal Conservatives and Tea Party members that they had finally gotten the message on the out-of-control government spending increases going on and promise to do something about it when they got into office. Many of you might remember that in order to show such seriousness, the Republican party ran on a platform promising some $100 billion in cuts to that budget in the first year if elected, in an gesture to right the course of the ship of state. 

Once in office however, leadership in the Republicans party began to once again don their weasel suits. Citing the passage of so much of the current fiscal year (a situation brought on by the fact that a Democratically-controlled Congress failed to even bring the government's budget to a vote), Republicans first offered the sap of some $30 billion in cuts for fiscal 2011. This effort was met with about as much eagerness as the call for a Super Bowl parade in Pittsburgh by some of the faithful, and even less enthusiasm by those who ran with Tea Party support. 

After taking a look at polling numbers and regrouping, these stalwart heroes came back with a revised effort showing a backbone with the stiffness of over-cooked linguine, something long suspected of them. They grudgingly upped the ante (and cuts) to some $60 billion, but did so while mouthing timid remonstrations that such an effort would be vilified as draconian in nature and subject to demonizing efforts by Democrats in the House (in this, they were right).  

Apparently lost in this example of trivial numbers however is the fact that for the current fiscal year, we are some $1.5 trillion dollars in the red. So the debate of cutting that number by 2% to 4% can hardly be considered draconian or extreme ... unless we are able to contemplate the concept of extremely small numbers. (You know, like those used to describe the IQ of the average Congressman.) Not to be outdone in the matter of tossing out insignificant sums, the Administration announced its own proposed cuts in recent days; a plan that they said would reduce the deficit by $1.1 trillion over ten years. While we should certainly applaud the idea of at least using the word 'trillion' in the same sentence as spending cuts, using the all-too-typical economic gymnastics of a ten year projection to reach this goal is about as laudable as cheating spouse who does so only occasionally. 

Certainly, even those of us with a public school education can do the math required to recognize that this actually works out to $110 billion per year, and that this sum is less than 10% of the current deficit. One must recognize as well that the president and his advisers were only able to reach a number for their 'cuts' greater than that proposed by Republicans in Congress by adding new 'revenues' to the equation (you know, taxes). What should also be considered about these DC 'reindeer games' is that proposals that project savings out beyond the current fiscal year make an erroneous assumption that the budget process is not reviewed and voted on each and every year. Any commitment or agreement on spending made by the chief executive and legislators today is binding neither on a Congress or Presidents of the future, nor should it be. 

Almost amusingly, we're told that these are the 'tough choices' that are finally being made. Yeah ... this is like deciding whether to have the extra large slice of cheesecake or the double portion of creme brulee for desert after munching on a 20 oz T-bone steak for dinner. Either choice is easier to digest however, than the hard news that you should be having a small salad and a skinless, boneless chicken breast because you know that you're eating too much and a return to the sanity of a proper diet might be the difference between your continued existence and achieving room temperature; but Congress is famous for hoping that ignoring a problem will make it go away. 

The plain and simple truth is that these far from satisfactory nibbles at the rampant growth of government spending in this country can only be considered to be legitimate reductions at all by the law of "reductio ad absurdum". For those of you unfamiliar with this type of argument, it's the concept of disproving something by reducing it to an utterly absurd consequence. You see, it's only by considering the absurdity of what both sides think will pass muster for proposed budget trimmings of such ridiculously low percentages, that they can laughingly be called cuts at all.

No comments: