I’ve been pursuing something of a project on this blog in recent months. The project has been to convince you that budgets matter. That they’re not one-day stories or — even worse — dull documents that we have to pretend to care about before we get to the fun whirl of politics.Read the rest here.
No, budgets are a moment when the two parties can’t hide. They’re a moment — one of the only moments — when politicians stop talking and put numbers down on a page. Numbers we can check and see and question. And so they should be read closely, and mined in great detail, because in those numbers -- in the tables in the back, and the assumptions fed to the Congressional Budget Office -- we can see the decisions the parties make when they’re forced to choose between competing priorities and constituencies. In those numbers, we can see, with unusal clarity, what the fights that animate American politics are ultimately about.
But the numbers don’t matter if we don’t force them off the page and into the world voters actually inhabit. Which brings us to David Brooks’s Friday column:
Under Ryan, Obama charged, 10 million college students would get their financial aid cut by $1,000, Alzheimer’s research would be slashed, 200,000 children would lose their chance to enter Head Start.
Where did Obama get these specifics? He imagined them. He imposed some assumptions that are nowhere to be found in the Ryan budget. He compared Ryan’s reduced spending increases with proposed growth, not current levels.
Brooks is right: Obama did offer specific cuts that don’t appear anywhere in Ryan’s budget. But only because Ryan refused to provide the specifics himself.
Ryan has said how his cuts will be distributed on the category level. He’s clear on the size of hit that “non-defense discretionary spending” will take. But he hasn’t said how those cuts will be distributed among the programs in that part of the budget. His numbers stop at the water’s edge of the real services and programs people use. And so the White House, to try and make them real, made a assumption — arguably, the only assumption they could make: They assumed that when Ryan said he would cut X category of spending by Y percent, those cuts would be dsitributed equally among the programs in that category. And the Ryan camp — echoed here by Brooks — called foul.
The House GOP budget is a wonderfully gilded lie. It's budget cuts are pure fiction. But it's tax cuts, mostly for the very wealthy, are quite real. Unfortunately so is the explosion in debt that will result if it ever becomes law.