Funny With Numbers: AP's Crutsinger Minimizes Federal Spending Level, Avoids the Term 'Tax Increase' (See Update)

Sadly, one could write a term paper identifying and correcting the clever misstatements and obfuscations contained in Martin Crutsinger's Sunday report (since updated; original is still present here) for the Associated Press on the impending submission of the President's 2012 budget by the White House's Office of Management and Budget.

Lacking such space, I'll concentrate on what I believe are the two worst examples, both of which are present in his opening paragraph. Crutsinger significantly misleads about the total spending the administration is proposing for fiscal 2012, and fails to call a tax increase by its proper name, i.e., a tax increase.

That first paragraph reads as follows:

President Barack Obama will send Congress on Monday a $3 trillion-plus budget for 2012 that promises $1.1 trillion in deficit reduction over the next decade by freezing many domestic programs for five years, trimming military spending and limiting tax deductions for the wealthy.

The obvious question is: "$3 trillion plus what, Martin?" A reasonable reader would believe that the "plus" part would be somewhat small. I would ordinarily expect that amount to be less than $100 billion; beyond that point, it should be described as "$3.1 trillion."

The real number is almost undoubtedly north of $3.5 trillion.

That's because the January 2011 projection from the Congressional Budget Office indicated that it expects fiscal 2012 spending to come in at $3.655 trillion:

CBO2010to2013

The reductions in anticipated spending OMB proposes, per Crutsinger's paragraph, amount to $1.1 trillion over 10 years, or an average of $110 billion a year. If OMB's projected impact on fiscal 2012 is 10% of the total (my guess is that it's less, because the Washington game is to push as much spending reduction as possible into far-off years), the $110 billion result would leave spending at $3.545 trillion. Only in AP-Land is it acceptable to round a number that is closer to $4 trillion down to "$3 trillion-plus."

Obviously, the idea of "limiting tax deductions for the wealthy" is simply a "tax increase" by a fancier name. Later in the report, Crutsinger cites an anonymous source who "said (that) one-third of the $1.1 trillion in deficit reduction the administration is projecting over the next decade would come from additional revenue with the bulk of that reflecting the limitations on tax deductions by the wealthy." Again, note the failure to use the phrase tax i-i-i-i ... increases.

But wait a minute. If the mix of deficit reduction is 1/3 tax increases and 2/3 spending reductions, then the $110 billion reduction in spending estimated above is really only about $75 billion, leaving spending closer to $3.6 trillion (actually, $3.58 trillion). You can see why I make such a fuss over "$3 trillion-plus."

I'll have to stop here, or this will turn into a term paper. It would appear that any adequately disclosed federal fiscal truth that comes out of the AP in the coming weeks will occur only by accident.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

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UPDATE: For possible inclusion in the "We Get Results" file, the original AP link above has now been updated for today's White House budget submission.

Marty Crutsinger's headline: "Obama sends Congress $3.73 trillion budget."

The first sentence: "President Barack Obama sent Congress a $3.73 trillion budget Monday that holds out the prospect of eventually bringing deficits under control through spending cuts and tax increases."

Wow, he even wrote "tax increases." That's much better, Marty -- but you still didn't get it right when it mattered most.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.