Cutting $100 billion from the discretionary spending accounts in the fiscal year 2011 federal budget is hard to do, even when you're talking about a massive $3.7 trillion pot of money.
The problem for the House GOP is that the $100 billion doesn't come out of that $3.7 trillion. Cutting from that much money would be relatively easy, actually.
Instead, it comes from the roughly 12 percent of the budget, $450 billion give or take, that represents discretionary spending. (The rest is mandatory spending like entitlements or interest payments on the federal debt. Or it's defense spending.)
So to get to $100 billion, House Republicans are using a gimmick. They're measuring their cuts not against the actual level of spending.
What they're doing instead is cutting against the airy fairy numbers in President Obama's proposed fiscal 2011 budget.
That budget was never passed. It might as well be a unicorn because it doesn't really exist.
But because that proposal had higher numbers than the actual amounts being spent, it makes it easier to get to the $100 billion.
Analysts at the Center for American Progress, an avowedly liberal outfit, make the necessary point:
The first step in the House Republican progression to reality was a sashay into slippery bookkeeping. They have contorted their promise to cut $100 billion from the federal budget into a proposal to spend $100 billion less than what President Barack Obama proposed to spend for 2011 in the budget he presented to Congress over a year ago.
That is a really weird way to look at "cutting spending" since President Obama's budget didn't pass, Congress didn't even consider passing it as-was, and it is a completely dead and irrelevant document at this point. It's like trying to save money in your family budget by taking away your kids' allowance when you don't actually pay your kids an allowance.
The honest thing to "cut," if you really want to reduce federal spending by $100 billion dollars, is the level of spending that is actually in place—not the level of a past proposal long-since dead. To belabor our simile, if your kid doesn't get an allowance but he does get paid for chores, then if you want to save money what you take away is the payment for the chores not the nonexistent allowance.
So why aren't the House Republicans proposing to cut $100 billion relative to the current levels? Simple: because the president's proposed 2011 budget had spending increases higher than what we're actually spending. So cutting $100 billion relative to the president's proposal leaves more spending in place than cutting it relative to current levels.
The allowances analogy works. Here's another analogy. Say you asked your employer for a $75,000 salary but your actually salary was $60,000.
Because business is bad, you're forced to take a $10,000 pay cut. Could your employer then claim a $25,000 savings? It would be weird if he did but that's essentially what House Republicans are doing.