Word and number games played in fiscal showdown
By George E. Curry
It should be embarrassing enough that President Obama and House Republicans postponed making tough fiscal decisions by kicking the can down the road to New Year’s Day – when certain automatic budget cuts will go into effect unless they act to avoid what is called a fiscal cliff. Instead of moving quickly to solve their self-created problems, both sides continue to misrepresent basic facts.
For example, House Speaker John Boehner [D-Ohio] has criticized the Obama administration for refusing to give a list of specific cuts. He said the administration “put $400 billion worth of unspecified cuts that they’d be willing to talk about.”
FactCheck.org stated flatly: “Boehner is wrong.” It explained, “The President’s deficit-reduction plan, as proposed to Congress in September 2011, itemizes ‘nearly $580 billion in cuts and reforms to mandatory programs, of which $320 billion is savings from Federal health programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.’ Those proposals are also listed in the President’s fiscal 2013 budget proposal in a section, beginning on page 23, titled Cutting Waste, Reducing the Deficit.
“The Medicare proposals, for example, are a mix of reduced payments to certain providers, including teaching hospitals and post-acute care facilities – as well as the higher premiums and new fees for certain beneficiaries…”
FactCheck.org, an organization that holds public officials accountable, also noted that Republicans are running a numbers game.
“In a Dec. 3 letter to the President outlining the GOP counterproposal for deficit reduction, Boehner and other GOP leaders said there is ‘four times as much tax revenue as spending cuts’ in the President’s proposal,” the organization recalled. “The GOP math works like this: Obama’s proposal includes $1.6 trillion in new tax revenue and roughly $400 billion in spending cuts. In an email to us, Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck said that ‘when Sec. Geithner made his proposal to us, the number he used – repeatedly – was $400 billion.’ However, as we mentioned earlier, on several Sunday talk shows, Geithner said the total savings comes to $600 billion over 10 years.”
Both Republicans and Democrats are playing being selective in their choice of words.
“In part, the discrepancy is a matter of language. Republicans are saying ‘spending cuts’ while Democrats are saying ‘savings,’ ‘reforms’ and ‘spending cuts.’ But the more substantial difference between the Democrats’ and Republicans’ spending cuts-to-tax hike ratios is that Republicans do not count the one trillion dollars in discretionary spending cuts agreed to in the Budget Control Act of 2011,” FactCheck.org states. “The White House argues those are part of the ongoing negotiations to resolve a deficit crisis. Nor does the GOP include the $800 billion ‘saved’ from ending the wars in Iraq and Af-ghanistan.”
President Obama and Secretary of Treasury Timonty Geithner exaggerate the amount of spending cuts in the president’s plan, according to FactCheck.org.
“On NBC’s ‘Meet the Press,’ Geithner said, ‘We have laid out a very detailed plan of spending cuts, $600 billion in spending in mandatory programs over 10 years.’ The President made the same claim in a Dec. 4 interview with Bloomberg News, saying his proposal has ‘$600 billion in additional cuts in mandatory spending.’
“It’s true that there’s nearly $600 billion in estimated savings from mandatory programs: $326 billion in health programs, including Medicare and Medicaid, and $254 billion in other programs, such as farm subsidies. But not all of these are ‘spending cuts,’ and the administration’s own deficit-reduction plan doesn’t label them as such – instead calling them a combination of ‘cuts and reforms.’
“There are tens of billions in new fees and surcharges and increased premiums in Medicare alone. Table S-10 of the revised fiscal 2013 budget proposal outlines numerous other new and higher fees under the section titled ‘Mandatory Initiatives and Savings.’”
Amid the word and numbers games, the public is clear about what should be done, even if Washington isn’t.
A Gallup poll in November found, “Forty-five percent of Americans now say they favor reducing the federal budget deficit with an equal balance of tax increases and spending cuts, up from 32 percent last year. At the same time, the percentage favoring an emphasis on spending cuts is now 40 percent, down from 50 percent last year, while the percentage in favor of reducing the deficit primarily through tax increases is unchanged at 11 percent.”
A Washington Post-Pew Research Center poll conducted Nov. 29-Dec. 2 found that a majority of Americans –53 percent – would blame Republicans in Congress if Washington fails to reach a deal in deficit talks to avoid the fiscal cliff.
The survey found that only 27 percent would fault President Obama if negotiations between the executive and legislative branches of government fail, 12 percent would split the blame equally between the two sides and 2 percent have no opinion.
Like Ronald Regan, this could be Obama’s “make my day” moment.