Bryan Clapper: Federal ‘cuts’ not even a start

Published 6:51 am Saturday, August 1, 2009

This week, the Obama administration released its promised $100 million in federal budget cuts – a reduction so small it barely even warranted a press release. But, true to form, the administration played it up and the national media covered the announcement with analysis, reaction and, as always, praise.

In all, the administration will save $243 million through 2010 by doing such things as printing on both sides of a piece of paper, cutting out some newspaper subscriptions, using standard jet fuel instead of special military-grade fuel, and other mostly arbitrary cuts.

“Cutting” $243 million out of a $3.6 trillion budget is the equivalent of a rounding error. To put it in perspective, the federal government spent $243 million between midnight and 12:36 a.m. this morning – that’s a rate of $6.8 million every minute.

The total amount of the cuts? Seven one-thousandths of a percent of the total budget. This is after increasing the federal budget by $500 billion for his first year in office.

Let’s put this in real-world numbers. For example, pretend your monthly family budget is $1,000 for your mortgage, $250 for your car, $100 for insurance (home and car), $400 for food, $100 for electricity and gas (in the summer months), $15 for trash pick-up, $65 for cell phone, $30 for home phone, $90 for cable and internet, and $100 for entertainment. You also smoke a pack of cigarettes a day, at a total cost of $2,190 per year and you like to take a family vacation and buy new clothes each year at a total cost of $4,000. Your total annual family budget for your two-income, three-person household is $31,990. These are rough numbers, and most people are paying much more or much less, but that’s a pretty close estimation of the average.

In order to “slash” your family budget by seven one-thousandths of a percent, you would need to spend $2.16 less over the course of an entire year – in other words, make one of your 365 packs of cigarettes last you a day and a half instead of one.

Government is so immense and complex that it’s actually national, leading news when it’s able to save any money at all.

Here’s another illustration: Hold up this page of the newspaper. The total area of this page is 279.5 standard inches. In order to cut the equivalent amount to this page, tear off exactly one square inch from the corner. Now tear that piece in half. Now tear half of  that piece in half. Now tear that half in half. Tear that eighth-inch-square piece in half again. Tear that half in half again, and then once more. You’re now holding a piece of paper that is one sixty-fourth of an inch square from a sheet of paper that is 279.5 inches square: 17,888 times smaller than the sheet it was torn from. Imagine a piece of paper that’s a thread or two larger than the minute piece you’re holding in your hand (if you were even able to tear it that small), and that’s the equivalent of how much the Obama administration recently “cut” from the federal budget.

If the federal government is ever going to be a manageable size again – which, given the last two administrations, won’t ever happen – we need to make the same cuts hundreds, even thousands of times over.

Whenever I write or talk about the massive size of government, I generally get some pushback from people who think this is all about keeping taxes low. While that’s an important part of it, that’s not all of it.

We’re currently digging ourselves deeper into the massive national debt. Our debt is held by nations that may not always be friendly to us, and may not always have credit available to us. What will happen if all of a sudden our national credit cards are maxed out? We’ll then be forced to either raise taxes (and, given the size of deficit spending, they’ll be raised on everyone, not just the wealthy) or drastically and immediately cut federal services.

It’s better to be proactive, and begin cutting programs now that don’t fit into the scope and purpose of the federal government as it was designed. Perhaps a few pork-barrel projects here, a congressional staffer or two there, and we’ll start seeing a real reduction in the size and cost of our government.

A cut of $243 million shouldn’t even raise the eyebrows of a government accountant, let alone be leading national news. It’s not even a start.

Bryan Clapper is the general manager of Leader Publications. He can be reached at