Faking budget promises

Faking budget promises

September 11th, 2012 in Opinion Times

Paul Ryan

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

By their own admissions, Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan and their campaign staff have already made it clear that they will ignore the findings of impartial fact-checker groups about the deliberately false claims their campaign is spreading in speeches and television ads.

Those falsehoods -- for example, the patently false Romney/Ryan claims that President Obama "gutted" the work requirement for welfare, or that he would whack $700 billion from Medicare benefits-- might be counted, as former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld famously mused, among "the known knowns" of falsehoods in the current campaign battles. As the campaign heats up, new discoveries will be in the Rumsfeld category of "known unknowns."

The mysterious "Ryan sinkhole," is among the first such significant unknowns to be explored. Described in an analysis by New York Times reporter Thomas Edsall, Ryan's sinkhole is the $897 billion whack job engineered by Rep. Ryan's budget committee, and approved by House and Senate Republicans that purports to slash nearly a trillion dollars in spending for federal domestic programs in order to reduce the federal deficit.

Problem is, there are no details behind this lump-sum amount. This pertinent part of Ryan's budget for a wide array of domestic programs does not specify which programs would be cut, or by how much. The $897 billion total is simply assigned to a placeholder category, labeled "Function 920: Allowances," a category from which money could be cut -- if and when federal budget makers in the House, Senate, Congressional Budget office and the White House actually get down to making such cuts.

Among Function 920's deep well of programs, Edsall explains, are veterans benefits, education, food inspection and safety, the Justice Department, Homeland Security, Head Start, medical and scientific research, job training, commercial infrastructure, crime prevention and air traffic control, among myriad other areas. The apparent purpose of Ryan's assignment of $897 billion -- in unspecified cuts-to-be-made at a date-to-be-announced -- is to make his proposed budget look like it would accomplish targeted deficit reduction.

Duh? This sounds amazingly like politics-as-usual, of course. Examination of the Function 920 Allowances punches big holes in Ryan's heady declarations about fiscal toughness, as well as his credibility. As Edsall noted, for instance, Ryan asserted in Ohio last week: "We will not duck tough issues. We will not kick the can down the road. ... We will lead. We will not blame others for four years. We will take responsibility and fix this country's problems." Alas, his placeholder gimmick drains his speech of any meaning or accountability.

Ryan's feel-good fiscal chicanery does allow him and Romney, however, to keep saying -- without provoking fact-checker's opposition -- that they will keep providing veterans' benefits, boost national research in health care and innovation, and so on.

Voters have to know, however, that Romney's and Ryan's over-promising -- they have specifically promised large new tax breaks for the rich and big corporations -- would immediately break their budgets. That's hardly a surprise. Romney, for instance, has repeatedly promised to keep the Pentagon's budget bloated at a minimum of 4 percent of GDP. At that rate, along with the given cost of earned entitlements, the domestic programs grouped under the Fed's Function 920 category would be shriveled, cracked and evaporated like dusty West Texas farm country.

President Obama's requested budget, by contrast, actually specifies both budget cuts and appropriations within the 2011 Budget Control Act, cutting discretionary spending by a third. Ryan's budget, now the heart of the Republican agenda, doesn't come close, and is nowhere near as honest.