There are no spending cuts in President Reagan's budget, only a "spending freeze" and "structural reforms."
Tax increases for the present are also "structural reforms." For the future, they have become a "deficit insurance policy."
A small bite off the big planned growth in military spending is characterized as "maintenance of defense buildup at lower cost."
The recession has become "the prolonged, costly transition to non-inflationary growth."
First in his State of the Union message Tuesday night and then in a glossy budget summary "leaked" through Congress like water through a sieve Friday, Reagan seized the rhetorical offensive even before NEWS ANALYSIS copies of his 1984 budget were scheduled to be made public tomorrow.
By using euphemisms, labels and slogans, he laid the groundwork for a perception of the budget--by members of Congress and by the public--that casts his proposals in the most favorable possible light.
Before Democrats could zero in on his proposals for squeezing more money out of benefit programs for the poor, for instance, he elevated them to the level of what he called "means-tested entitlement reform."
Similarly, welfare, housing and employment proposals, including spending reductions and increases, were brought together under the label of "maintenance of the social safety net."
Another way of looking at the president's efforts to clamp down on growth of guaranteed benefit programs, from food stamps to pensions, was entitled "social contract and other entitlements with proposed structural reforms."
And lest Democrats begin taking potshots at savings that will flow from recent recommendations of the special Social Security commission, these savings were called a "bipartisan solution to Social Security solvency."
Use of creative language to describe controversial government actions is nothing new in Washington. The New Deal and Great Society were among some of the more ambitious and successful efforts. But, with the attention that Reagan has focused on the federal budget, which makes neither stirring nor simple reading, he has won a new badge for creative writing in the official language of Washington.
Moreover, with relative ease, he has changed policy without changing the rhetoric in some areas, while changing rhetoric without changing policy in other areas.
Tax increases and spending cuts are good examples.
On taxes, Reagan has clung to the same rhetorical framework, insisting that he is holding the line on his original three-year tax-cut program, while moving as unobtrusively as possible toward more tax increases.
Just as he agreed last year under congressional pressure to accept nearly $100 billion in assorted "revenue enhancements" over three years and then bowed to demands for a nickel-a-gallon increase in the gasoline tax, he is now embracing Social Security tax increases, a new tax on health insurance benefits and a standby tax on incomes and fuel that would raise $146 billion between fiscal 1986 and 1988.
In the budget summary, these standby taxes are called a "deficit insurance policy." They would be triggered if the economy continues to improve, if Congress approves the proposed spending "freeze" and if deficits continue to exceed $100 billion a year--all of which the administration appears to be assuming in the budget.
Acceleration of Social Security tax increases and taxing of employer-paid health insurance benefits are included as "structural reforms," along with cost-cutting steps for many guaranteed benefit programs.
As for the growth in spending, which the administration vowed to "cut" over the last two years, it is proposing what it called a "comprehensive freeze on federal spending" in advance briefings on the State of the Union speech and labeled simply a "spending freeze" in the budget summary.
To begin with, the "freeze" exempts military spending, which accounts for more than one-fourth of the budget and nearly three-fourths of the total increase in spending from fiscal 1983 to 1984, and payments on the national debt and increased costs stemming from addition of new recipients of guaranteed benefit programs.
It applies mainly to pay and pensions, programs indexed to inflation and hundreds of so-called "discretionary" programs, saving $19 billion in fiscal 1984. Even here the impact is uneven.
Federal workers' pay and pensions would be frozen for a year. However, in addition, the proposed increase in workers' contributions to pension costs would amount to a cut in take-home pay, and pension "reforms" anticipate an eventual shrinkage of retirement benefits.
In addition to a six-month freeze of programs indexed to inflation, the discretionary programs would be "frozen" at fiscal 1983 levels but in the aggregate only, meaning that some will be cut, some will be increased and the net result will be a wash, more or less.
The summary is more explicit about program expansions, such as a fourfold increase in aid for workers displaced by factory shutdowns, than it is about programs that will be cut.
The $8 billion "defense savings" is actually only $8 billion less than the administration originally wanted for the Pentagon. It would leave defense spending at about the level that Congress projected for fiscal 1984 when it passed its version of the fiscal 1983 budget last year. In other words, the administration is counting as "savings" money that Congress was not planning to spend anyway.
In any case, defense spending would rise from $208.9 billion in fiscal 1983 to $238.6 billion in fiscal 1984--an increase of about 14 percent, compared with a 5 percent increase for the entire budget, which would just keep pace with inflation.
But, for all the euphemisms on the pieces of paper that were floating around Washington throughout last week, Reagan came closest to the nub of the matter in talking with reporters Friday.
While debate used to be about how much to increase spending, "today the debate is focused on how much or how little will the cuts be in government spending," the president said. Not "freezes," not "reforms" but "cuts."