That Old Budget Bias: Is House GOP Really Planning "Cuts" In Programs?

October 17th, 2005 6:42 AM

This is the oldest media bias kvetch in the book. But Jonathan Weisman in today's Washington Post begins a front-page story: "House Republican leaders have moved from balking at big cuts in Medicaid and other programs to embracing them..." But what is lacking in Weisman's story is the actual Medicaid budget numbers so we can understand whether actual "cuts" are being proposed, as opposed to the usual cuts in the projected growth of spending, otherwise known in the world of mathematical fact as "limited increases."

Now don't get me wrong. Weisman offers conservatives plenty of room to speak in this story, and what he is describing is good news to conservatives, that the House leadership is bowing to calls for a tighter leash -- or hey, a leash, period -- on federal spending. But reporters often describe "cuts" that are just cuts in somebody's wild increase plans. Weisman does have some numbers, and they don't sound like "cuts" have been a dominant emphasis: "Since President Bush came to office, federal spending has grown by a third, to $2.47 trillion from $1.86 trillion, while record budget surpluses turned to record deficits." (He doesn't mention that President Bush hasn't vetoed a single spending bill.)

Weisman notes the current plan: "Cuts to entitlement programs such as Medicaid, food stamps and farm supports would be raised from $35 billion to $50 billion in the massive budget bill that will be compiled in November." Here's one reason to be skeptical of the "cut" talk. Here's Heritage Foundation budget expert Brian Riedl with his conservative goal on Medicaid spending, which doesn't get close to an actual cut, just a cut in growth:  

Since 1999, federal Medicaid spending has leaped from $108 billion to $186 billion—an aver­age annual growth rate of 9.5 percent. The Con­gressional Budget Office (CBO) projects 7.8 percent annual growth rate over the next decade. Bringing spending under control is extremely diffi­cult when the third largest entitlement expands at this rate. Reducing the growth rate to 5 percent is a reasonable goal in an era of tight budgets.