Don't Make Fun of the Cuts!

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
May 17 2011 1:40 PM

Don't Make Fun of the Cuts!

Brian Beutler broke the news that the spending cuts passed last month, in the deal that prevented the government shutdown, were not yet -- what's the phrase? -- cutting things.

"Total discretionary outlays in 2011 will be $3.2 billion higher as a result of the legislation, CBO estimates--an increase of $7.5 billion for defense programs, partially offset by a net reduction of $4.4 billion in other spending," reads a just-released report from the Congressional Budget Office -- Congress' non-partisan scorekeeper. Analysts there conclude that increase is due in large part to the fact that the six month spending bill shifted defense spending to more immediate activities, which means the bills will come due sooner than later.

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The AP followed, writing another story on this, with the House GOP leadership's explanation of why it wasn't really so bad. Here's the thing, though -- Democrats passed on the story, too. The DCCC, which wants to take 25 seats away from the GOP next year, blasted out this news. That's a risky strategy in the long run.

Why? When freshman Republicans initially heard about an early CBO score of the bill that suggested it had only paltry cuts, it took a lot of scrambling from Republican leaders to educate members on the difference between spending and outlays, and assure them that the cuts were real. That experience emboldened and angered the party's spending hawks who got that much more aggressive about demanding concessions in exchange for a debt ceiling vote. And for, they're absolutely on track to get them.

That's the downside for Democrats of mocking how little the deal achieved. The upside, theoretically, is that if most Republican support collapses for bills that the business community and Boehner want, Democrats can flood the gap. That's what they've offered to do on the debt ceiling -- back a "clean" bill, to lessen the demands on Boehner.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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