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Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press More Fun With Budget Numbers: Frat Boy Reporting at the New York Times

More Fun With Budget Numbers: Frat Boy Reporting at the New York Times

Friday, 01 August 2014 04:58

The NYT gave us a prime example of frat boy budget reporting today, presenting readers with really big numbers which mean almost nothing to any of them. The article referred to the Senate passage of bills providing funding for veterans health care and transportation. It told readers:

"Prompted by the long waiting lists at veterans’ health centers and the bureaucratic efforts to hide them, the $17 billion bill aims to clean up the scandal-scarred Department of Veterans Affairs by granting the agency’s secretary broad new authority to fire and demote senior executives.

"It would also authorize the leasing or construction of 27 new health facilities; and set aside $5 billion to hire doctors, nurses and other health care providers, and $10 billion to pay for veterans’ care at private and public facilities not run by the department."

Anyone know how large a share of the budget $17 billion is? Will it bankrupt our kids? Are the $5 billion for hiring doctors and $10 billion for care at private facilities in addition to or part of the $17 billion? Is this for one year or multiple years?

(The cost is approximately 0.45 percent of annual spending. The spending on doctors and private care is part of the $17 billion. It seems to cover multiple years [reducing its share of spending], but a quick look at the summary doesn't make the time period clear.)

The article also told readers:

"The Senate bowed to the House, which had approved an $11 billion measure financed largely by a sleight of budgetary hand that avoids any tax increases. Under the maneuver, known as “pension smoothing,” corporations will be allowed to set aside less money for pensions, which will increase profits and raise business tax receipts."

The $11 billion comes to 0.3 percent of annual spending. This spending also covers multiple years, although the time period is certainly not clear from this article.

Anyhow, this should be really good one for the fraternity of budget reporting. It provides virtually no information to readers but apparently meets the quality standards of the NYT. 

Comments (4)Add Comment
The Senate Bows to the House to Avoid Gridlock and a Really Big Number
written by Last Mover, August 01, 2014 6:10

No price is too high to save single payer for patriotic veterans from the destruction of internal selfish non-price rationing that created unnecessary shortages and long waits.

Except taxes of course. Surely more waste could be squeezed out to pay for it than private sector pension smoothing.

How about some warmonger smoothing going forward for those who created this overload mess on the VA with the useless wars? Hell, Bush II ran the Iraq war off-budget, now spiraling towards $3T in true opportunity costs.

But hey, no problem when the tax bill rolls around. The Senate will just bow to the House in civil compromise and find another way to pay for it. We all know what that means don't we - avoiding the cost of one those really big numbers.
Well, your "exposition" isn't much better.
written by Bill H, August 01, 2014 9:29
What really matters is not what percentage of government spending it amounts to, but rather what amount is needed to solve the problem. If it was 20% of government spending the bragging that "Hooray we're spening 20% of our budget on it" would be hypocritical because the amount would still be insufficient to solve the problem.

On the other hand, if $17 billion solves the problem, then who cares that it is only 0.45% of spending? Why should we spend more? Just so that economists would not be critical because we are spending too small of a percentage of total spending?

So "providing information to the readers" would really consist of comparing the amount to the problem, not to the national budget, and telling the public how far the amount goes toward solving the problem.

written by sd, August 02, 2014 10:28
"Under the maneuver, known as “pension smoothing,” corporations will be allowed to set aside less money for pensions, which will increase profits and raise business tax receipts."

I've got a better idea. Set aside less money for the pensions of our retired elected Congress persons. I'm really getting tired of squeezing the blood out of labor to cover "Profit" that just gets sucked out by private equity shenanigans.
written by Squeezed Turnip, August 02, 2014 10:56
Bill H, let's not be silly. When the bank determines what size mortgage payment a buyer can afford, they don't just look at the nominal amount, they look at the percentage of the monthly budget it will consume. In other words, income matters, wealth matters and expenses relative to income truly matters. when contemplating problems. Some solutions are cost prohibitive, what then?

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About Beat the Press

Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He is the author of several books, his latest being The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive. Read more about Dean.