The incredible shrinking spending cuts

THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING SPENDING CUTS…. About a week ago, with a very likely budget shutdown hanging over head, President Obama and Senate Democrats accepted a disappointing compromise, agreeing to cut $38.5 billion from the fiscal year’s budget. For many of us, the agreement was bitter sweet — averting a shutdown was good, but accepting such a large package of cuts was not.

This week, with access to more details, we’re looking at the package in a new light. By one estimate, discretionary spending is really only being reduced by $14.7 billion. The AP found that a lot of the cuts related to money that wasn’t going to be spent (leftover Census money, for example), eliminating programs that were set to expire, and not repeating expenditures intended to be one-time infusions anyway.

Late yesterday, the Congressional Budget Office narrowed the scope of the cuts even more.

A new budget estimate released Wednesday shows that the spending bill negotiated between President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner would produce less than 1 percent of the $38 billion in promised savings by the end of this budget year.

The Congressional Budget Office estimate shows that compared with current spending rates the spending bill due for a House vote Thursday would cut federal outlays from non-war accounts by just $352 million through Sept. 30. About $8 billion in immediate cuts to domestic programs and foreign aid are offset by nearly equal increases in defense spending.

When war funding is factored in the legislation would actually increase total federal outlays by $3.3 billion relative to current levels.

OK, so this year’s deficit will barely be affected, and the cuts are starting to look surprisingly small. But the agreement probably includes more sweeping, painful cuts in the near future, right? Well, that’s not quite right either.

Kevin Drum flagged language in the CBO report (pdf) that noted the agreement would cut about $2 billion a year over the next decade.

To be sure, there are some ugly cuts in this deal, which probably wouldn’t have been made at all were it not for the results of the midterm elections.

But some of the assumptions from last week about President Obama and Harry Reid agreeing to excessive spending cuts, making painful concessions out of weakness, probably need to be revised. It’s looking less and less like Dems got rolled on this one.

Indeed, as these new revelations become better known, it’s the right that’s outraged most. Prominent conservative activists are pulling their support for the agreement, and this morning, House Republican leaders were scrambling to make sure they have enough votes to actually pass this thing. John Boehner’s image as the GOP hero who got the better of that rascally White House in budget talks has tarnished quite a bit over the last few days.