Budget Dreams, Budget Nightmares

If you are reading this, I have two things to say to you. First, congratulations on being among the tiny portion of Americans that care enough to learn what politicians are doing with our national budget. Second, get a life and do something constructive with your time.

The federal budget is a subject guaranteed to elicit the snooze reflex in anyone not afflicted with a wonkishness gene that, when activated, causes the possessor to obsess over details ordinary folk would find torture to read. This is especially true since when you add all those details together, you get a document that usually has as much to do with reality as a Boomer LSD flashback.

The truth is, the federal budget is not really a "budget" in the same way you think of your household budget. Most of us have a good idea how much we will have available every month to spend on food and other necessities as well as pay the bills and, if we're very lucky and frugal, put some aside for retirement. What's left over is usually spent on a family outing to the movie theater or Goofy Golf.

The federal budget is a little different. Firstly, it is guaranteed there will be nothing left over. No Goofy Golf for our congressmen. Secondly, we really have no idea of the exact amount that will be coming in to pay the bills. For example, back in 2006, the feds were just a little off in their calculations on revenue. About $130 billion more was collected than the projections indicated. While this may be something to celebrate, it highlights the guessing game played on both sides of the ledger by Congress when trying to figure a budget.

Theodore H. White referred to the budget not as a blueprint but as an untidily wrapped package that contained the hopes, the dreams, the aspirations, and the competing, clashing interests of a large and diverse nation. It is the most political document published by Congress. It can hardly be anything else given the fact that the federal budget is crafted, debated, and passed in a most dishonest fashion with accounting tricks galore and hocus-pocus performed with Social Security in order to hide the actual deficits we are running.

There is simply no way for the ordinary mind to grasp what President Obama or the congressional Republicans want to spend to fund next year's government functions.  The difference between  the $3.5 trillion that Obama and the Democrats want and the $3.2 trillion the GOP says we can live with is a pittance, a drop in the bucket when we are looking at trillion dollar deficits every year as far as the eye can see under the Democrats' spending regime. While it is true the Republican numbers are slightly better when taken as a whole over the next decade (they would spend $3.4 trillion less), their deficits are in excess of $500 billion for the foreseeable future and depend on growth in the economy that shows more optimism than a fan of the Chicago Cubs believing his sorry excuse for a team will make it to the World Series this year.

This might be a good time to mention that funding for the Treasury's Financial Stabilization Act to deal with the bad assets of banks is not included in either budget. Add $500-$1 trillion to those brain-numbing numbers above for a truer picture of what we're in for.

The budget currently being crafted in the House and Senate by Democrats, when laid alongside the Republican alternative unveiled yesterday, offers a sharp difference in the size of Mr. White's untidily wrapped package as well as what both parties think the American people want from government. The Democrats are loading up their budget with goodies for education, the environment, transportation, and their crown jewel -- a huge health care reform package that will cost more than the defense budget.