About Those $38 Billion in 2011 Spending Cuts

Here’s an interesting, if (sadly) not very surprising, assessment by David Fahrenhold of the Washington Post about the April 2011 U.S. government “spending cuts” that, at the time, were heralded as a great step forward in finally coming to grips with the nation’s budget deficit troubles.

At the time, President Obama characterized this as “The largest annual spending cut in our history”.

In the real world, in fact, many of their “cuts” cut nothing at all. The Transportation Department got credit for “cutting” a $280 million tunnel that had been canceled six months earlier. It also “cut” a $375,000 road project that had been created by a legislative typo, on a road that did not exist.

At the Census Bureau, officials got credit for a whopping $6 billion cut, simply for obeying the calendar. They promised not to hold the expensive 2010 census again in 2011.

Today, an examination of 12 of the largest cuts shows that, thanks in part to these gimmicks, federal agencies absorbed $23 billion in reductions without losing a single employee.

Another irksome aspect of the ongoing budget debate in the U.S. is that reducing the rate of spending growth or reducing spending relative to some baseline is now commonly characterized as cutting spending. 

Unfortunately, most Americans probably believe elected officials are actually talking about cutting spending.

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