The Fact Checker

Saturday, March 12, 2011; 11:45 PM

"The Democrats have put forward spending cuts, many of them pretty painful, that give Republicans already half of what they were seeking, because they're the right thing to do."

- President Obama, March 11, 2011

The White House was not happy when we gave two Pinocchios to Democrats for persistently saying they have gone "halfway" to GOP proposals on cutting the 2011 fiscal year budget. We also suggested that the "halfway" phrase would be worth more Pinocchios if President Obama began to use it.

He did so in his weekly radio address March5, and then again at his news conference Friday, but not before the White House gave The Fact Checker a bunch of data and charts trying to make the administration's case for using the phrase. So let's review the issue again, and see how persuasive the administration's argument is.

The Facts

It comes down to where you draw the line - the budget baseline. Democrats like to draw the line at the president's proposal for 2011, even though it was never enacted. Under that measure, Republicans would cut about $100 billion and Democrats about $50 billion. That's where the "halfway" comes from.

Republicans - and much of the news media - measure the cuts from the 2010 budget, the last one signed into law. Under that scoring, the Republicans have cut $60 billion and the Democrats under $10 billion. The two sides are still $50 billion apart, but under this scenario, the Democrats have barely budged. (Their argument was further weakened last week when the Congressional Budget Office judged some of their cuts to be worth less than they claimed.)

White House officials have argued that it makes sense to compare one proposal - the president's 2011 budget request - with another proposal, the House 2011 bill. But that argument has gained little traction in official Washington.

The White House has now come up with a third way of drawing the line: the 2010 budget, adjusted for inflation. This is not unreasonable, since inflation means a dollar one year does not buy as much as the next year.

Under this scenario, the discretionary budget for fiscal 2011 would have been $1.117 trillion, all things being equal.

Here's how the different budget proposals compare when adjusted for this new line:

+12 billion

President's original 2011 proposal

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