Saturday, April 09, 2011

How did we get to a $39 billion headline?

Taking up a question from one of yesterday's posts:
P.S. Watching Democrats apparently give ground yard by yard -- from accepting a reported $32-33 billion in cuts earlier this week to  $37-38 billion today, not to say even getting in this range in the first place  --  is so baffling that I wonder, by defensive reflex if nothing else, if there isn't more to this than meets the eye. Are some of those billions illusory, i.e. offloaded into areas Democrats don't care about or want to cut?  Has the weighting changed in some way that offsets the sticker amount?  
 And how, given the final sticker amount, can Obama find the "audacity" to claim this?
But beginning to live within our means is the only way to protect those investments that will help America compete for new jobs -- investments in our kids’ education and student loans; in clean energy and life-saving medical research. We protected the investments we need to win the future.
Here is a Dem answer -- or spin:
“1) $17 BILLION IN ‘CHIMPS’ -- WE SPREAD OUT THE CUTS ACROSS OTHER PARTS OF THE BUDGET. We insisted that meeting in the middle on cuts would require looking beyond domestic discretionary spending—and we prevailed. More than half—or $17 billion—of the final round of spending cuts came from changes in mandatory programs, or CHIMPs. The emphasis on this part of the budget staved off severe cuts to key domestic programs like education, clean energy, and medical research. 
"The CHIMPS," cried Mr. Rochester. "Deuce take me if I did not forget the CHIMPS!"*   Or make that Mr. Rogers (David), who explained back on April 3:
With a shutdown looming, budget negotiations this week will rise or fall on two major issues: policy riders demanded by Republicans and an estimated $6 billion to $8 billion in new savings in mandatory programs offered by the White House to forestall deeper cuts in domestic appropriations.

The administration is prepared to accelerate proposed reforms in the Pell Grant program for low-income college students and cut billions elsewhere from one of the initiatives enacted under health care reform: the establishment of new nonprofit health cooperatives, a priority of Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.).

The Children’s Health Insurance Program, extending Medicaid coverage to the children of working class families, is a third potential target, together with billions to be saved from rescinding highway contract authority.
One might wonder why cutting CHIP and Pell Grants would be a major source of relief for Democrats.  But it does seem that we laypeople have much to learn about the deal in coming days.  One perhaps dumb question: do the cuts in CHIMPS come out of their 2011 allocation, or are they spread over many years? I know it's the 2011 budget, but...
The Democrats also boast about adding a token $3 billion in defense cuts, which does suggest another possible source of alteration to the headline numbers being bruited about some days ago. Rogers again:
The challenge for negotiators now is to meet a target of cutting discretionary appropriations to $1.055 trillion or about $33 billion below the rate of spending when this Congress took office in January. Included is an estimated $6 billion increase for the Pentagon, so at this stage, the true cut for domestic programs and foreign aid is closer to $39 billion.
As numbers get thrown around in the news for days and weeks, a  reader may develop a shallow relative sense of their significance. For Dems: $20 billion in cuts good! $40 billion bad! You soak up a tidbit from, say, Mark Zandi: $61 billion in cuts = 700,000 jobs lost.  And supply a mental ergo: $39 billion in cuts = 447,500 jobs lost...nah.  It don't work that way.
* Jane (Eyre) on the brain:
“You are not a servant at the hall, of course. You are—” He stopped, ran his eye over my dress, which, as usual was quite simple: a black merino cloak, a black beaver bonnet: neither of them half fine enough for a lady's-maid. He seemed puzzled to decide what I was: I helped him.

“I am the governess.”

“Ah, the governess!” he repeated; “deuce take me, if I had not forgotten! The governess!” and again my raiment underwent scrutiny. In two minutes he rose from the stile: his face expressed pain when he tried to move.
As might ours after scrutinizing the CHIMPS.

As for scrutiny in Jane Eyre, don't get me started..

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