BY SCOTT RASMUSSEN
On Monday, President Obama will unveil his proposed federal budget for 2016. Voters should be warned that virtually all the numbers reported in news coverage of the federal budget will be misleading at best.
That’s because the budget reporting will be written primarily in the language of official Washington rather than the language of everyday Americans. In Washington, if government spending goes up less than expected, the politicians have declared it to be a “cut.” Normal people don’t consider something a spending cut unless spending actually goes down.
Congress even passed a law in 1974 to make this abuse of the English language official. At the time, federal spending was starting to spiral out of control and voters wanted something done about it. Rather than deal with the substance of what voters wanted, Congress simply changed the definition of a word so that it meant one thing in Washington and another in America.
That let politicians campaign on claims of “cutting” government spending while spending continued to grow. Forty years of such deceit created the problems we face today.
The confusion created by the language of official Washington was highlighted earlier this week in media coverage of a report showing that the federal budget deficit for 2015 will be the lowest in many years. USA Today, for example, reported this good news with the explanation that deficits have fallen since 2009 “due to a combination of federal spending cuts and economic growth.”
The problem — and it’s a big one — with that statement is that federal spending in 2015 is projected to be $138 billion higher this year than it was in 2009 ($3,656 billion this year compared to $3,518 in 2009).
Think about that! Spending is higher than it was, but the media says spending cuts are the reason for declining deficits.
USA Today was not alone in making this mistake. It’s the way the storyline comes from official Washington, and it conveys a misleading impression of why deficits are lower today. Too many reporters have become part of official Washington rather than translating the official statement into the language of everyday Americans.
A translation would note that federal spending has remained relatively stable in recent years following a huge jump in 2009. Deficits are down today because federal tax collections are now more than one trillion dollars higher than in 2009 ($3.2 trillion this year compared to $2.1 trillion in 2009).
Keep all this in mind when reviewing media coverage of the president’s budget proposal.
As a starting point, recognize that commitments already made ensure that federal spending will grow by $270 billion next year. That’s a 7percent jump from 2015. In just five years, annual federal spending is expected to be another trillion dollars higher than it is today. Those figures don’t include any new programs proposed by the president.
Federal spending keeps on growing due to ever-expanding entitlement programs and military commitments along with other “mandatory” programs. Some might be justified due to inflation and/or population growth. But before these reasons can even be considered, voters need to understand the reality of ongoing federal spending growth.
That’s an understanding the media should provide. And it should be provided in the language of everyday Americans rather than the language of official Washington.