A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Dems’ ‘Halfway’ Hustle

Democrats claim their $10.5 billion in proposed cuts are "halfway" to the GOP’s $61 billion. We give that arithmetic an "F."

President Barack Obama claimed during his March 5 radio address that "my administration has already put forward specific cuts that meet congressional Republicans halfway." And White House Chief of Staff William Daley repeated the "halfway" claim during his appearance on "Meet the Press." Earlier, Gene Sperling, director of the White House National Economic Council, told reporters: "The White House has been willing to move halfway to where they are." And House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi — echoing the same talking point — said "Democrats stand ready to meet the Republicans halfway on this. That would be fair."

But Democrats haven’t really met Republicans halfway at all. They’re playing the same misleading game that some Republicans tried earlier, when attempting to sell $61 billion in cuts as $100 billion.

Democrats agreed to $4 billion worth of cuts in the continuing resolution that will fund the government until March 18. They have since proposed an additional $6.5 billion in cuts from 2010 spending levels. These are real cuts — reductions in current spending levels for the remainder of the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. But taken together, those Democratic cuts are only about one-sixth of the $61 billion approved by the Republican-led House of Representatives last month.

Democrats claim to be meeting Republicans in the middle only by comparing cuts with spending levels that Obama proposed last year in his 2011 fiscal year budget — a budget that Democrats failed to enact when they had control of both House and Senate. That’s the same trick some Republicans used when they originally claimed their proposal would cut $100 billion in spending. They also were comparing their proposed spending level with Obama’s 2011 fiscal year budget proposal. But their cuts actually amounted to only $61 billion from current spending levels, which are lower than what Obama had originally proposed.

The Democratic claim to be meeting Republicans "halfway" sounds reasonable, but it’s just as bogus as the GOP’s original claim to be cutting $100 billion. As we often advise, when a politician uses the word "cut," always ask, "compared with what?"