(Carlos Osorio/AP)

“I first want to thank the chair of our committee, the budget committee, for doing such a terrific job in bringing us all together. My colleagues on the committee, as we all know, we worked very, very hard together in order to be able to put together a balanced budget that reflects the values of the American people, that’s fair, that’s balanced in values and approach as well as in numbers, and we did that.”

— Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), remarks on the Senate floor, May 8, 2013

A reader asked: Is the Democratic-crafted budget plan “a balanced budget,” at least in the conventional sense? Most people would interpret that phrase as meaning a plan that in theory leads to an equal level of revenues and expenditures by a given date. In other words, the federal government no longer ran deficits.

After all, House Republicans claim to have a budget that leads to balance in 10 years. Do Democrats? (Note: We take no position on whether a balanced budget is good for the economy or not. Economists differ on that issue, with some arguing that deficit spending, if properly invested, can be better for economic growth.)

The Facts

It’s important to remember that these 10-year budget blueprints are more political, aspirational documents than serious financial plans. No one really knows what the economy will look like a decade from now, and so actual tax revenues and government spending in the future are heavily dependent on factors beyond politicians’ control.

In fact, when budget surpluses emerged in the Clinton administration, they came much more quickly than anyone had predicted or even hoped for at the time, largely because of a gusher of unanticipated tax revenues from soaring technology stocks.

But in any case, does the Democratic Senate plan ever predict a “balanced budget”? Nope.

The summary tables produced by the Budget Committee show hundreds of billions of dollars in deficits year after year, with $566 billion in deficits at the end of the 10-year period. About $5.2 trillion is added to the national debt over the 10 years.

So how can Stabenow even begin to refer to this as a “balanced budget”? It comes right out the Budget Committee’s news release: “This budget takes the balanced and responsible approach to our fiscal challenges that every bipartisan group has endorsed and that the American people support.”

See that word “balanced”? Democrats clearly want to have their cake and eat it too, using a nice, poll-tested word that resonates with voters without making the cuts or tax increases needed to get there.

Cullen Schwartz, a spokesman for Stabenow, said she misspoke and did not mean to suggest that the budget is balanced, numbers-wise, though she certainly said it was “balanced in values and approach as well as in numbers.”

“Senator Stabenow was referring to the fact that the Senate budget takes a balanced approach to reducing the deficit by making sensible spending cuts while also cutting tax loopholes and giveaways to millionaires and special interests,” Schwartz said. “On the other hand, the Republican budget seeks to reduce the deficit by putting virtually all of the burden on middle class families and seniors. The budget debate is all about the choice between these different approaches.”

The Pinocchio Test

We always appreciate an admission of mistake by politicians. This is clearly a case of being hung by your own spin.

Democrats have thrown around the word “balanced” because it sounds good, but it is a real stretch to use that term for a budget plan that does not even come close to being “balanced,” as most Americans would understand it. And yet Stabenow claimed that the budget was balanced not only in terms of values, but also in “numbers.”

When you play with fire, it’s easy to get burned. It would be best to stop making claims of “balance” when the deficits barely get nicked.

Three Pinocchios

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