I guess the worst thing about living in Washington is how callous a person becomes about money. This was demonstrated once again last week when President Carter's new budget was revealed.
The day the figures were announced, I ran into Doubleday at the Class Reunion, a bar and restaurant.
"Did you hear that Carter's lean and tight' budget will be $500.2 billion?" I asked.
"No kidding," said Doubleday. "I thought it would be somewhere around $505.3 billion."
"But that means we're going to have a $60 billion deficit."
"Well, you can't make an omelette without cracking some eggs," he replied.
"What exactly does that mean?" I wanted to know.
"Beats me, but people always say that when a new budget comes out."
"Do you realize," I said, "that in 1962 the federal budget hit $100 billion and everyone was shocked (and hten it doubled in 1972 to $232 billion. Now it's gone over the half a trillion dollar mark."
"I'll admit if you call it a half-trillion it sounds bad," Doubleday said. "But why can't you say it's $500 billion like everybody else and let it go at that?"
I shrugged. "It seems like so much money."
Doubleday took a handful of peanuts. "How do you know it's a lot of money?"
"What do you mean, how do I know?"
"Have you ever seen a billion dollars?"
"No," I said. "I've never seen a billion dollars. I don't think anyone has ever seen a billion dollars."
"So how do you know if it's a lot or a little?" he asked.
"It sounds like a lot," I said defensively.
"Aha," Doubleday said. "It sounds like a lot so you automatically think it's a lot. Let's take $100 billion as opposed to $200 billion. Which would be more?"
"Two hundred billion dollars, of course."
"If you've never seen a billion dollars, how would you know the difference between $100 billion and $200 billion?" Doubleday asked.
He was starting to get me mad. "You'd know because $200 billion would have to be bigger than $100 billion."
"You would think so," said Doubleday. "But I have a theory. Once a thing reaches a billion it no longer has any size to it. Since no one has ever seen a billion dollars they cannot positively state it is smaller than $2 billion. They can only surmise it."
"What are you driving at?" I wanted to know.
"That," said Doubleday, "There is no sense getting excited when you find out the fiscal budget is going to be $500 billion. A billion here or a billion here doesn't make that much difference. I always say, if you can't see it, it can't burt you."
"I guess you're right," I told doubleday. "I shouldn't let the word billion bug me so much. Would you like to buy me a beer?"
"I would like to," he said. "But it costs $1.50.
"What are you being so cheap about? You just said a billion dollars didn't bother you.
"It doesn't But when you have to pay $1.50 for a glass of beer, it gives you something to think about."