Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, and like most of you, I’m planning to write a bad check for piles and piles of gifts. I’m not sure what, really. I won’t keep much track. Even after I buy them, I’ll probably be a little fuzzy on what exactly I paid for. And when the check bounces, I’ll go right on pretending it didn’t. Just like you.
Oh, you didn’t realize that was in your plans for the day? Then you haven’t been reading the papers.
Valentine’s Day is the day the President’s budget request for fiscal 2012 will drop on the desks of a divided Congress. It will be filled with jaw-dropping numbers – in FY 2010, the government spent a total of about $3.5 trillion, and took in about $2.4 trillion, making up the difference with – you guessed it – debt. A bad check worth more than $1.1 trillion.
Both parties have, of course, pledged to cut spending in this next round. The White House is starting to let specifics of its cuts trickle out. They can sound impressive, if the big numbers have numbed your mind enough. Obama’s newly-confirmed Budget Director, Jack Lew, wrote in the New York Times this Sunday that “we have had to look beyond the obvious and cut spending for purposes we support. We had to choose programs that, absent the fiscal situation, we would not cut.”
The Republicans are talking tough as well. Politico notes that Republican plans would “cut domestic programs by $100 billion and force the government to pay creditors before funding other priorities if the limit on the national debt is hit.”
But, for all the talk, the proportions of the cuts are pathetically small. The White House is pushing the idea that a five-year freeze in spending growth should count as a cut (I don’t know about you, but when I spend the same amount of money tomorrow as I did today, I don’t actually spend any less money in the process), and arguing that the $775 million in cuts detailed so far is a significant change in federal policy.
But $775 million is just 0.02 percent of $3.5 trillion – and the FY ’12 budget request should easily top the $3.5 billion we spent last year. The proposed cuts would leave us with more than 99.8 percent of our problem.
That’s the challenge with these numbers – the figures can sound impressive in a speech, but against the actual spending total, they’re nothing. Watch this excellent illustration of what each $100 million cut would actually mean to the federal budget to see what I’m talking about.
The problem is simply so huge that the solutions our politicians are discussing won’t really dent it.
Authored by Jeff White, Founder of GovWin