A point worth noting, and not just because it’s Nancy Pelosi who gets the triple Pinocchio treatment today. This view of budgeting gets a lot of traction on Capitol Hill, and the dishonesty cuts a number of different ways. Last week, Pelosi claimed that the 114th Session’s first appropriations bill cut signifiant amounts of money from veteran care:
“It turns a cold shoulder to our veterans and ignores our crumbling infrastructure. In terms of our veterans, you see yesterday, Republicans sought to advance their appropriations bill under the level set by their new budget, which may or may not come to the floor today. But yesterday, the MilCon — military construction veterans bill — that cuts $1.4 billion below President Obama’s budget … and then it cuts $690 million from veterans’ medical care alone, the equivalent of 70,000 fewer veterans receiving V.A. medical care in one year.”
That’s sheer nonsense. The new appropriations bill authorizes expenditures of $171 billion, which as Michelle Ye Hee Lee notes, increases spending in both areas over FY2015. Discretionary spending went up 6%, in fact, far over the rate of inflation. Furthermore, it also includes a rider for an additional $900 million that deals with backlog issues. The only cuts — technically “rescissions,” since it reverses previously authorized spending — went to payments of bonuses and a reprioritization of some less-than-critical programs.
Plus, Lee points out, Congress had already approved a separate fund for veterans care, amounting to far more than of what Pelosi accused Congress in “cuts”:
Yet, in addition to this appropriations bill, VA now has access to an extraordinary amount of money to make sure veterans get medical care. In August 2014, Congress passed the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act — a bipartisan response to the scandal that erupted over veterans’ delayed access to medical care at VA facilities across the country.
That legislation allowed VA to spend $5 billion to improve infrastructure and hire physicians and medical staff. Another $10 billion allowed the agency to pay for veterans to get medical care outside of the system if they live far away from a VA facility or if they wait longer than 30 days for an appointment. This is separate from the House appropriations bill. (There is a three-year sunset on the $10 billion portion.)
As of February 2015, VA had spent about $500 million of the $15 billion appropriated through that legislation.
To recap: while Pelosi gripes that the bill “cuts” $690 million from veteran care, the VA has been sitting on $14.5 billion for eight months that Congress previously authorized separately for just that purpose.
Lee is “perplexed” by this argument:
This is more money than the agency ever has had, and the total VA funding has grown by nearly 73 percent since 2009. It is also difficult to see how rescissions of bonuses or pay raises would lead to fewer veterans receiving care. … The argument that 70,000 fewer veterans would access medical care because of the House appropriations bill is perplexing and clearly an exaggeration.
It’s not an exaggeration at all; it’s an outright lie, made for the purpose of demagoguery.
However, Pelosi is hardly alone in shrieking about “cuts” in spending that are really increases. Democrats have been using this argument for years, if not decades. Very little has been cut from the federal budget during the Obama era, despite all of the talk about “austerity.” This chart shows the arc of budget outlays from FY2000 to the estimate for FY2020, straight from the White House’s own data:
For the most part — except for the sequester, which actually did make some cuts — the notion of “cuts” usually means increases below expectations, or in this case, less money than Obama demanded. And that slight decrease and short plateau followed a massive increase in spending, which meant that the cuts in FY2013-14 still let federal spending far higher than in FY2008, the last budget George W. Bush signed.
This cuts both ways, pun intended. Republicans will often brag about making budget cuts, when in fact they’re also claiming reductions in the rates of increase in spending as “cuts.” Reducing the rate of increase in spending could only charitably be called a start on fiscal sanity. The chart above belies even that gracious interpretation. The federal budget is going nowhere but up, and Pelosi’s demagoguery is fully intended to make sure that doesn’t change in the slightest.