It's March, the month when Spring, the NCAA tournament, and "Dancing with the Stars" all begin.
It's also when Republican shameful misuse (to the point of malpractice) of the budget baseline typically reaches its annual high/low point.
That's when, in response to the Congressional Budget Office's release of its updated deficit projections and estimates of the president's budget, Republicans carefully pick the comparison that supposedly proves what they want to say even when there is ample and readily available evidence that show what they're saying isn't true.
Two examples from last week.
My column from this morning's Roll Call explains why the Republican position on not using cuts in the projected spending for military activities in Afghanistan makes them all-star budget hypocrites, and then some.
After reading the column, you may also say it's "par for the course."
Republicans Set Stage to Become All-Time Budget Hypocrites
By Stan Collender
Roll Call Contributing Writer
Feb. 28, 2012, Midnight
Congressional Republicans so far have been adamant that reductions in the projected spending assumed in the federal budget baseline for projected continuing military activities in Afghanistan must not be used to offset the cost of anything.
The first time I had a knockdown argument with anyone about budget baselines -- a subject that virtually defines what it means to be a budget wonk and should never be a cause for yelling -- was about 15 years ago when I was doing a briefing for the newly elected members of Congress at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. I was just explaining several basic budget concepts when former Senator Alan Simpson (R-WY) and Representative Mark Kirk (R-IL) repeatedly interrupted me to say how baselines were how congressional Democrats got their way on spending. They both insisted that baselines were only something that existed inside the beltway and, according to Kirk, only in Washington could baselines be used to make a spending increase look like a cut.
Except that they're both completely wrong.
One of the biggest budget questions last week was how much spending did the agreement on the continuing resolution actually cut. The top line number -- $31 billion, $38 billion, whatever billion -- was the first big story because it was one of the ways the media determined who was doing better during the negotiations. Then the bottom line gave House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) fits and made him scramble for votes to pass the CR when the Congressional Budget Office reported that spending would only be reduced by millions in 2011 rather than the billions he had proudly announced. And then the top line was questioned again when CBO reported that the total would be between $20 billion and $25 billion over 10 years instead of the $38 billion total that seemed to seal the deal.
The truth is that every one one of these numbers is correct in some way. It's also correct to say that everyone always seems to be fooled every year when different people involved in the budget debate use the number that best suits their purposes instead of agreeing upfront on how things should and will be measured.
Visitors to House and Senate Budget Committee mark-ups are often surprised by how debates over baselines consume more time than debates over policy. That's because agreeing to a baseline forces certain policy decisions. If you assume tax cuts will be extended in the baseline, it doesn't cost anything to extend them. If you assume the President's spending proposals in the baseline, you can show large spending cuts when you remove them, even if they had little chance of enactment anyway. That's the game being played now. This morning, the Congressional Budget Office will release its baseline as required by the Budget Act in its annual Analysis of the President's Budget. CBO is constrained to take into account "present law," except that any expiring trust fund taxes are assumed to continue. That means that last December's tax cuts will be assumed to expire at the end of 2012, even though most, if not all, of them will be extended at a 10-year cost of $3.2 tr. President Obama wants to allow the tax cu