Saturday, June 23, 2012

Fred Upton's Phantom Cuts

Several times in recent weeks, Congressman Fred Upton has claimed to have voted to cut spending by 6 trillion. But is this true?

Southwest Michigan Politics: Mike O'Brien to speak Thursday in Kalamazoo; Congressman Fred Upton's latest mailer targets Barack Obama more than Jack Hoogendyk

There is no documentation for the claim in the mailer. I could not find any documentation on the internet either. The only mention of the claim is a letter to the editor from an Upton supporter.

Glad Fred Upton is fighting for fiscal responsibility (Letter)

The federal government will spend $3.8 trillion in 2012. So Upton is claiming to support cutting more than the entire federal budget. So he must be claiming to cut spending over multiple years.

This is an easy way to inflate the nominal size of the supposed cuts. If we cut spending by one dollar per year for the next six trillion years, how much have we cut spending?

But it's worse than this. Because future spending cuts never actually happen. Whenever Congress wants to pretend to cut spending, they pass a plan to cut spending by some gigantic amount over ten years. Breaking down the cuts over ten years, you inevitably find that they are all in future years, and little or nothing is cut in the first year.

Of course, Congress knows perfectly well that they cannot bind future Congresses. That is, any laws passed later will supersede the earlier law containing the cuts. Probably nobody will even remember the earlier law. Even if somebody does, members of Congress will argue that we can't make those cuts NOW. Look at all the urgent needs we face! We'll cut spending next year!

Say, I think I'll spend a billion dollars next year. Wait, no I won't. I just cut a billion dollars in spending! Look how fiscally responsible I am!

The only cuts that matter are the cuts this year. While Upton has voted for a few small cuts now that he has a competitive primary, his overall record is poor.

Even if Upton had cut six trillion, that would only be one third of the $17 trillion present-value unfunded liability of the Medicare prescription drug program that Upton voted for back in 2003. It only passed by five votes, so Upton could have rallied enough members to stop it.

It's a lot easier to pretend to cut spending than to actually cut spending.

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