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{Published in the Colorado Springs Gazette, July 20, 2011}

Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the WWW! I don’t mean that new-fangled internet-thingy, I mean the “Weekly Word in Washington”! Today we’re going to learn how to talk to people in our nation’s capital. You see, words don’t mean the same thing there that they do everywhere else. You may think you know what words like “defense,” “security,” “investment,” “welfare,” “mandatory” and “rights” all mean. Let’s see how wrong you are!

Today’s Word in Washington is “cut.” Can you say that with me? When you and I use the word “cut,” it means to reduce it somehow. When we have to cut our family’s budget to get through tough times, we make it smaller than it was before. It hurts, but we do it because we have to.

In Washington, “cut” means something completely different. It means “making something smaller than we wanted it to be.”

For example, suppose the Department for Doing Good Things wants a 10 percent increase in its budget, from $10 jillion to $11 jillion. Suppose as well this is a frugal Congress in tough economic times. They will hem and haw and eventually tell the Department of Doing Good Things that while they appreciate all the Good Things they are doing for America, they must endure a “spending cut” of 5 percent, and live on a budget of $10.5 jillion.

To those of us who live in the real world, this looks like an ‘increase’ of 5 percent. That’s because you’re speaking English, and not Politico. Try [to] compare not with what you have, but with what you think you’re entitled to. Then you’ll get the idea.

How can Washington get away with this kind of nonsense? Because this way everybody gets what they want. Fiscal “conservatives” can claim they’re “budget cutters.” Liberals can howl about how their budgets have been “cut,” while in reality they still get more money. So everybody is happy. Everybody in Washington, anyway.

(In fact, because 5 percent is half of 10 percent, a real Washington pro can actually say this is actually a 50 percent cut in his budget. I have read actual writing by presumably sane people who actually believe this.)

You might thing that if “spending cut” means a cut against some hoped-for future, “tax increase” might mean something similar. Not so. A tax increase is always based against the reality of “now,” and takes effect immediately. That, my friends, is the real problem with the Great Debt Ceiling Hoo-Ha.

For all the fanfare and drama, the events surrounding the raising the borrowing limit of the U.S. government are still business as usual. The August 2nd deadline is political theater, the latest of several lines drawn in the sand by president’s Treasury secretary. There are ways of restructuring debt and prioritizing payments that can easily permit the deadline to be missed without the government defaulting on its obligations. The threat of default after the second is just politics.

What is most disturbing is how the terms of the debate are still unchanged. Everyone is talking about tax increases and spending cuts, but remember how Washington works. Tax increases are based against what we’re paying now, while the spending cuts are against some baseline in the future. In Washington, tax increases are always “now.” Spending cuts are always “later.”

It would be a terrible mistake for Republicans to capitulate and agree to a deal under those terms. That’s just kicking the can down the road. It’d be better to have no deal at all and instead hold out for real spending reform.

Real spending reform doesn’t mean slowing a rate of increase against some delusional future baseline. It means prioritizing government functions and abolishing those at the bottom of the list because we can’t afford them. It means recognizing that “mandatory” spending isn’t mandatory.

It means recognizing the reason the government cannot meet its obligations is not because it isn’t borrowing enough money, but because it has too many obligations.

And because it thinks it can make words mean whatever it wants.

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