And on Tuesday afternoon, while debating a bill that would require the Congressional Budget Office to stop assuming annual increases in discretionary spending due to inflation, two members of the House budget committee fell deep down a chart-created rabbit hole.
The debate began with Georgia Republican Rep. Rob Woodall, who was arguing in favor of the bill. He passionately laid out the argument that if the CBO spending estimates include increases for inflation, it would create incentives for the government to spend more each year -- even if it doesn't need to -- in order to hit those estimates. "This bill...puts a stop to Washington math forever," Woodall said.
But Maryland Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen argued against the bill, saying that the CBO must continue to factor-in inflation, otherwise budget estimates will be completely unrealistic.
And when Van Hollen came back at Woodall, he came back hard -- with hamburger charts, no less.
In the first chart (above), Van Hollen noted that, thanks to inflation, the price of a Big Mac has increased from $2.71 in 2004 to $4.62 in 2014."That's not Washington math, it's reality based math!" Van Hollen declared. (Worth noting: The hamburger above is NOT actually a Big Mac. The real thing looks like this.)
Then came chart number two.
Van Hollen's second chart shows how different the cost of goods and services are now than they were in 2004 -- again, using the Big Mac as his example. Without including inflation, the CBO budget would, over time, become more and more detached from reality, Van Hollen argued.
And, chart 3.
What would happen in that scenario, according to Van Hollen, is that the government would have to cut back on the number of services it could provide because of inflation "For $2.71 today, you don't get as big a hamburger. Right?" Van Hollen said. "We would all love to repeal inflation...but that's not the real world."
Boom. Microphone dropped.
But, wait. Woodall wasn't done. He fired back with his own burger metaphor (but sadly, no Big Mac charts).
I think I've got one of the best chart teams on Capitol Hill, I'll say to my friend from Maryland that it's a great Big Mac chart, and I think it drives home my point exactly.
Which is federal government math assumes that if you got to buy a Big Mac 10 years ago, you're still buying a Big Mac today. I just wonder if that's true. I've switched to the value menu. I get the McDouble from time to time for $.99. The Spicy McChicken is now a part of what I do. I have to get into my wallet and justify the expense and when the prices double, sometimes we as Americans have to substitute.
Perhaps enraged by Woodall's value meal choices (seriously, who orders the Spicy McChicken?), Van Hollen cut back in. "As you know, the value meal on that McDonalds menu 10 years ago cost more than the value meal today!" Van Hollen said. "So this is just, again, about math and budgeting in a transparent way." Woodall jumped in one more time to acknowledge that "inflation is not going away" before yielding the floor to Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), so he could treat Van Hollen to a McFlurry.
Watch the whole exchange here: