Mitch McConnell, as part of his red-meat pretext for abandoning the debt ceiling hostage strategy, has accused the Obama administration of really only offering $2 billion in spending cuts:
Earlier this week, I asked an administration official point blank what the cuts they were proposing as part of their so-called bipartisan deal would amount to next year. He said they amounted to about $2 billion, total. Washington will borrow $4 billion dollars today alone. Two billion dollars when Washington borrows more than that every day.
“This is what they were planning to spin as more than $1 trillion over 10 years.
“It was at that point that I realized the White House simply was not serious about cutting spending or debt.
The $2 billion talking point has been picked up by, among others, Washington Post conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin, who is also the leak recipient of, and passionate advocate for, McConnell's plan:
The White House offered a paltry $2 billion in actual, immediate cuts...If no one likes the plan we can go back to the main ring, where Obama is offering only $2 billion in real spending cuts.
There are a couple of huge problems here. First, McConnell is assuming that the only "real" spending cuts are those that take place in this year's budget. Of course, that's silly. You don't want to impose very large cuts during an economic crisis. Now, Republicans may deny economic principles advocated by such left-wing radicals as Ben Bernanke and Goldman Sachs, but the administration does believe this. So obviously, if the administration accedes to spending cuts, it's going to want to backload them for macroeconomic reasons.
This does not mean the spending cuts are not "real." Indeed, Paul Ryan's budget imposed enormous cuts over a very long period of time. His most high-profile spending cut did not even begin to accrue savings until after ten years. You didn't see Republicans denying those savings were real.
Second, a Democratic official familiar with the budget talks assures me that McConnell's account is numerically false. McConnell simply took the fiscal year 2011 discretionary budget, $1.050 trillion, and compared it with the number discussed in the negotiations, $1.048 trillion. But of course, budget baselines account for inflation and higher costs. The Congressional Budget Office baseline for 2012, excluding war costs, was $1,111 trillion, which would make the first year savings $63 billion.
This official showed me a spreadsheet of a CBO baseline which was provided to the negotiators but hasn't been published. I didn't independently confirm its veracity, but I have no reason to doubt it. In any case, McConnell's line here is not just conceptually silly but seems to be factually incorrect as well.