The truth behind the $38 billion budget cuts

Before we get too far in the new debate on spending, just a word about last week's news - the so called "historic compromise" that prevented a government shutdown and cut an astounding $38 billion from this year's budget.

Whether or not you thought the cuts came in the right programs, that's a big deal. Thirty-eight billion dollars is a lot of money.

Or is it?

Well, thanks to the Congressional Budget Office and some great reporting by the Washington Post, it turns out the government won't be cutting $38 billion in one year after all.

No, the real cuts will be more like $352 million!

You heard me right, $352 million, NOT $38 billion.

The rest? Mostly smoke, mirrors and accounting gimmicks.

Example: When projects like the Capitol Visitor Center came in under budget - it was supposed to cost $621 million and an actually cost less than $600 - auditors called the unspent, left over money a "spending cut." The Washington Post found that in 98 cases where the government had allotted money to federal agencies that was never spent, in each case it was called a "spending cut."

On big-ticket items like aircraft carriers whose full cost won't come due for five or six years, the entire cost was deducted as a "cut" in this year's budget.

We bemoan the fact that government can't break its spending habits, can't do what it needs to do, but what I find more disappointing - is appalling too strong a word? - is that try as they might, neither side can seem to find a way to tell the truth.

  • Bob Schieffer On Twitter»

    Bob Schieffer is CBS News' chief Washington correspondent and anchor of Face the Nation.

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