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FactCheck Mailbag, Week of April 3-9

This week, readers sent us a request to define budget “cuts,” and a comment about Supreme Court opinions.

In the FactCheck Mailbag, we feature some of the email we receive. Readers can send comments to editor@factcheck.org. Letters may be edited for length.


Budget ‘Cuts’

In many articles, you use the term “cut” or “cuts.” Sometimes that term is part of a political quote. I think you should make it clear whenever a politician uses the term “cuts,” that this is not used in the normal way — as to mean an actual reduction in the budget. It is used to indicate a reduction in the increase in the planned budget which usually is above the current budget number. So, a “cut” in Washington, D.C., is not an absolute reduction in the budget allocated, but a reduction of the planned increase.

It would be good to include actual numbers so that people would understand that the absolute number has increased. For example, the last budget was $100 billion and the planned budget is $110 billion, so the cut of $5 billion still increases the budget item by $5 billion. Using the term “cut” without explanation simply stirs up fear that a program will have less money in the budget. That is sensationalism and is false and misleading. This should be clearly explained every time the term “cut” or “cuts” is used. Otherwise, you are just misusing the English language like the politicians. Just because the politicians corrupt the language doesn’t mean you have to continue the corruption.

Edwin Adema
Fort Worth, Texas

FactCheck.org responds: We have often made this very point. For example, here (when Democrats used “cuts” in a misleading way) and here (when a Republican was doing it.) And we generally try to use phrases such as “slowing the growth of future spending” or “cuts in the level of projected spending” in preference to the shorthand of “spending cuts.”

President Obama and SCOTUS

The issue between the president, Congress and the Supreme Court is much more nuanced than your recent piece regarding the president’s remarks [“Obama Eats His Words,” April 4]. It was also very unusual for a circuit court judge to address a government lawyer during arguments, and take them to task over the president’s remarks. In fact, the president’s comments were correct. Certain elements elevated his remarks into an attack on a basic principle of American jurisprudence as you did as well. His comments, when read without passion, merely reflect an issue that SCOTUS has always had and must be mindful of.

SCOTUS has always had a problem regarding its opinions. It has a limited ability to enforce them and has had to rely on consensus and acceptance built upon a long history of deference. The court has removed itself from political questions for this reason, so as not to bring itself into disrepute. Unfortunately, Bush v. Gore tilted the balance, and the plethora of 5 to 4 decisions since Bush v. Gore have done the court’s credibility no good.

You may loathe or extol Chief Justice Warren, but he knew that nothing spoke to the credibility of the court more than a unanimous decision. As a former governor (ironically the same man that ordered the relocation of the Japanese), he understood the court’s political role and its limits. In contrast, this Court is either incredibly naive about its role or tone deaf. Before it starts overturning 70 years of precedent, it should make sure it has a strong majority or unanimity. Its very credibility may be at risk.

So a more careful rendition of the president’s remarks would have been appreciated.

Kim Bruno
Washington, D.C.