As the parties argue over who who won the months-long budget battle that resulted in a deal to cut $38 billion in federal spending, the Congressional Budget Office offered this total buzzkill: the budget cuts were really only worth $352 million. That's less than 1 percent of the touted total; many GOP lawmakers are furious and House Speaker John Boehner may have to count on Democratic votes to get the bill passed. Why did the CBO get such a wildly different number?
First of all, the deal actually increased Pentagon spending by about $8 billion, as the Associated Press's Andrew Taylor explained in an article that was quickly passed around by outraged conservatives Wednesday afternoon. When war spending is considered, the budget actually increases spending by $3.3 billion compared to current levels. As for non-defense spending, much of what was cut comes from grants to state and local governments that haven't gone into effect yet. (Example: The CBO provided another analysis to lawmakers smacking down claims that cutting health care-related bonuses to states would save $5.7 billion. The real amount of savings? About $0.) Other cuts withdrew appropriations outlays from earmarks that were never spent--and might never have been.
One cut that will seriously cut the deficit? Elimination of year-round Pell Grants. That'll save $40 billion over the next 10 years, but just under $1 billion this year.
Politico's David Rogers notes that if you ignore the defense spending, the deal still cuts $42 billion from current levels. Still, the CBO report is a problem for House Speaker John Boehner, Rogers writes. "Given the GOP’s famous '$100 billion cut' rhetoric of the 2010 campaign, the influence of tea party conservatives and projections now of a $1.4 trillion-plus deficit..." The Republican might have to stoop to "borrow[ing] a phrase from Obama and try to sell the deal as an 'investment in the future.'"
But The Weekly Standard's John McCormack urges conservatives to calm down. "Is the CR a sham? Nope, not really." The bottom line is that spending has been cut since Boehner took over. "This is all a little confusing, but the bottom line is that the conservative angst over the CR seems to be much ado about little."