The amount of confusion and misinformation spewed by both the mainstream media and the right blogosphere was higher than usual in the last couple of days. Quin Hillyer does a valiant job of explaining how budgeting works and trying to set the record straight:
This is an Appropriations bill. Approps bills are primarily expressed through “budget authority,” not through “outlays.” A project in an Approps bill that receives budget authority in FY 2011 might not actually get spent — there may not be an “outlay” of the full amount — in 2011. If it is a construction project, that will almost certainly be the case. This late in the fiscal year — which began last October 1, and thus is more than halfway over — some of these projects may not even get the contracts signed before the end of the fiscal year. So cutting that project would not cut a single dollar from actual spending this year. But that does NOT — NOT NOT NOT NOT NOT — mean that cutting the project is a waste of time. If the budget authority is removed, it means that the money that absolutely would have been spent in future years now CANNOT be spent, by law. It saves real money.
You can read the rest, if you are so inclined. But the main point that Hillyer drives home is this: “Many of the Boehner-negotiated cuts that are being criticized as legerdemain are, in fact, real savings. They may not be immediate savings, and they may not be direct savings, but they are savings. They actually withhold real, honest-to-goodness, authority to spend.”
There is a reason (other than it involves math) why so many on the right are happy to exploit this confusion and peddle the narrative that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) did them wrong. It serves the “never satisfied crowd”to think that their leadership conned them or was incompetent. The confusion gave 59 Republican congressmen a further reason to vote against a significant spending cut. They can retain their political virginity, never having sullied themselves with a productive vote. And it gives certain bloggers the glow of self-righteousness, for they too haven't been “conned by the establishment.” If it reminds you of 1960s adolescent rebellion disguised as high-mindedness, you are not alone.
But the 59 “defections” are another phony storyline. Most certainly would have voted yes, had their votes been needed. Many will say they are serving a useful purpose, holding down the “right flank” as a warning to the Democrats that there is pressure from Boehner’s conservative caucus. That’s true to some extent, but it’s also not terribly fair to let Boehner do the heavy lifting while they tout their own conservative bona fides.
Now this brings me to two observations. First, lawmakers who have fallen into the “hell no” voting pattern will tell you, “Well, I promised the voters I’d support X.” (“X” can be full repeal of Planned Parenthood funding or $100 billion in cuts in the remaining few or a balanced budget in 10 years.) That’s their excuse for not voting on a very good deal. Well, they might have to learn over time that those promises were unrealistic or uninformed. And, without getting too Burkean, they also owe their constituents the benefit of their own evolving judgment. They are not marionettes; they are representatives.
And finally, the media and the activists once again magnified the most disagreeable voices. When the CR passed by an overwhelming margin, they professed surprise. Sixty-eight percent of the freshmen voted with the House leadership. And the final vote, 260-167, shows Boehner to be fully in command of his party. In the Senate, despite the perennial protest vote-casters, the vote was 81-19, again not even close. Perhaps, then, the press exaggerates the degree of disagreeableness. Isn’t the story here that the Republicans, with control of only one House, moved the agenda significantly to the right?
The most important takeaway from the CR is this: Now the hard and important work begins. Really, billions are well and good, but trillions are what matter.