How Senate Dems intend to meet the GOP ‘halfway’

HOW SENATE DEMS INTEND TO MEET THE GOP ‘HALFWAY’…. How can Senate Democrats cut $51 billion from the budget without actually cutting $51 billion from the budget? I’m glad you asked.

Senate Democrats today unveiled their spending proposal for the remaining seven months of fiscal year 2011 and said they want to hold votes early next week on their proposal and the GOP’s plan. […]

Using President Obama’s never-enacted 2011 budget proposal as the baseline, Senate Democrats said their proposal includes $51 billion in cuts — about half of the $100 billion in cuts that the GOP wants, using that same baseline.

However, Republicans have argued that the president’s 2011 budget proposal is not a valid baseline since it was never enacted. The baseline that should be used, the GOP has said, is the current level of spending in the original continuing resolution.

Is that so.

I suspect for a lot of folks, this is where the eyes start glazing over the budget minutiae. The phrases themselves — “baselines levels,” “continuing resolutions,” “budget proposals” — are probably sleep-inducing.

But this is far more interesting than it might seem. House Republicans came up with their spending plan, insisting that it cuts $100 billion this year. When those who believe in arithmetic point out that it’s actually $61 billion in cuts, the GOP takes great offense — it counts as $100 billion, they say, because they use the White House’s 2011 budget plan as a baseline.

As of today, the line from Democrats is, “That’s a great idea!” Using that exact same baseline, what Dems are offering amounts to $51 billion in cuts, a little more than half the intended Republican target.

It’s exactly why, as far as the White House is concerned, Democrats have already agreed to meet Republicans “halfway.” In a literal sense, they have.

Glenn Kessler explains that the Democratic rhetoric on this isn’t entirely honest. He’s right; Dems are playing a little rhetorical game here.

But the key takeaway from this is that the Dems are playing this game exactly as they should. Republicans want to use Obama’s 2011 budget plan as a baseline, in order to argue with a straight face they’re cutting $100 billion? Fine. Dems get to use that same baseline.

Either that 2011 baseline counts or it doesn’t. The GOP argument is that they get to use it to justify their claims, but Dems have to use some entirely different standard at the same time.

That’s not going to work. If GOP changes the stanard, then Republicans have to admit they’re not cutting $100 billion, their ongoing promises to the party’s right-wing base notwithstanding.

If I’m a Democrat involved in these talks, I’m grabbing hold of this with both arms.