While Albert Einstein proposed the theory of relativity nearly a century ago, today’s Congress and White House have perfected its application.
Take the Aug. 15 announcement by the independent Congressional Budget Office that the 2005 federal budget deficit would be a $331 billion black hole, not a $427 billion one as calculated just six months ago.
The White House and Congressional Republicans reacted immediately by crediting themselves for the $96 billion narrowing.
The right track. “We’re clearly on the right track,” explained Iowa Republican Jim Nussle, chairman of the House Budget Committee, to the Washington Post, in decreeing that the “successful leadership and policies of the Congress and the president” were behind the news.
Relatively speaking, they are on the right track if:
-You think the nation’s third largest federal budget deficit ever (following 2004’s all-time record $412-billion bust) is something to be proud of.
-You conveniently forget that the projected 10-year federal budget surplus five, short years ago was $5.6 trillion rather than today’s breathtaking deficit of $2.47 billion, a dubious $8.1-trillion turnaround.
-And, you, as usual, use this year’s Social Security surplus, $173 billion, to slash the true deficit of $505 billion to a more brag-accommodating $331 billion.
Playing games. Nussle’s boast, however, is as silly as saying the Chicago Cubs should have been in the 2004 World Series because the team’s record last year, 89 wins and 73 losses, was one victory better than in 2001, when the Cubbies nearly made the Big Show.
Of course, the inarguable fact is the North Siders finished 16 games behind the first place Cardinals in 2004, not five games out as in 2001, when the team made baseball’s playoffs as a wild card despite a one-game poorer record.
Like a near-sighted Cub fan, though, come September, Congress will use the improved and wildly misleading budget numbers to hit more tax-cut home runs for its biz and wealthy pals while throwing you and me more bean balls.
The losers. Farmers, ranchers and most rural Americans will pay.
In May, Rep. Jeb Hensarling, a farm boy Texas Republican elected to the House in 2002, introduced a bill designed to cap entitlement program spending at less than the current rate of growth.
Good idea, right? After all, the federal budget is out of control – as witnessed most recently in the transportation and energy bills (an energy bill that, by the way, does nothing to lessen the impact of an $8 to $10 billion increase in farm fuel costs this year).
The rub in Hensarling’s plan – that picked up 58 co-sponsors before its ink was dry – is that the cap is really a butcher knife: It would require, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, $2.1 trillion in cuts to entitlement programs in the coming decade.
Cuts. For example, notes the center’s Aug. 10 analysis of the bill, Medicare would sustain a $919 billion hit over the next decade if Congress adopts entitlement caps.
Medicaid would be whacked for $460 billion.
How many rural hospitals, clinics and nursing homes would still be around if the two largest federal health and welfare programs in America take a $1.4 trillion sock in the mouth over the next 10 years?
Far fewer is the obvious and honest answer no one in Congress appears to have thought about.
Farm programs would be nicked for about $2.1 billion per year under the Texan’s 10-year plan. Food Stamps will have its decade-long check cut by $54 billion while the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s other food assistance programs would lose another $25 billion.
What will these program cuts mean to farm and ranch prices and the rural economy? Again, no one in Congress appears to have considered that rather major question.
Trick play. An even bigger kick in the teeth, however, comes if Congress and the White House succeed in making the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts permanent.
If so, they can then sell steep cuts in entitlement programs as a budget-balancing necessity.
It’s a neat trick and you don’t have to be an Einstein to see it.
(Alan Guebert’s Farm and Food File is published weekly in more than 75 newspapers in North America. He can be contacted at email@example.com.)