Lying Liars About Other People's Lies
The latest annoying undercurrent that I'm beginning to note in the media is an aggregation of mischaracterizations of minute details to contribute to the broad accusation that the President is a liar. Here's how it works:
I came across an instance of step 1 tonight, and even though I'm short on time and short on interest in figuring out the complexity of federal budgetary processes even though I disagree with what the President is doing and would much prefer if the facts (apart from the supposed lying) behind this specific liberal claim were true (cutting spending), I thought I'd take apart a paragraph from David Corn, the liberal liar in this particular case. Corn writes:
Let's get one thing out of the way: the Bush speechwriting team apparently let a mistake get through into this minor speech delivered at an elementary school in Tennessee; $53.1 billion is indeed the total proposed education budget. Let no one dispute David Corn's abilities as a proofreader. However, I have no idea where Corn gets his $34.9 billion from. Adding up the particulars listed under Elementary and Secondary Education (go to the last page of the PDF), I get a 2004 budget of $29.542 billion, as compared to a 2003 budget of $28.019 billion, a 5.44% increase, year over year. Since I can't confirm Corn's numbers, let's assume that the reason for the discrepancy relates to his distortion of the relative total figures. (Part of it might involve the $10,093,623,000 "mandatory funds" for the total budget, which I have excluded from the following analysis because they've remained the same. However, while this may account for the difference in magnitude of our numbers, it probably doesn't cover the relative increase versus decrease claims.)
Corn claims that the overall education spending "in [Bush's] budget" is the same as "the 2003 level." I put those words in quotation marks because Corn is slippery in his language. This is apparent in the way he shifts from Bush's claim of a 26% increase since he took office to the assertion that there is no next-year boost. More egregiously, in handling the Elementary and Secondary Education data, Corn compares the 2004 budget to what was "received" in 2003. The fact that these are not really comparable numbers requires Corn to carefully word his statement that "overall education spending in his budget is the same as the 2003 level."
Looking at the last page of a comprehensive chart of the education budget, we do indeed see that 2003 total allocation for discretionary spending was $53,112,759,000 while the 2004 "President's Request" calls for $53,139,203,000 (we'll call these "the same"... what's $26 million between countrymen?). But then there's this other column that says that the 2003 "President's Request" was $50,309,879,000. In terms of proposed budgets, 2004 does indeed bring a 5.6% "boost." (And who believes that there won't be further appropriations and supplements?)
Realizing that the federal government brought the 2003 budget almost up to the 2004 level a number of months early leads to another discovery. In that same chart, the next row of data is for "Budget Authority," which a note at the bottom of the page tells us represents the money that was actually available in the year, with the difference applying to the next fiscal year, beginning October 1. Looking closely at the data and the footnotes, we see that $15 billion is apparently applied from every budget to the following year, which doesn't affect the numbers (the money from last year cancels out the money paid in advance to next year). However, in 2003, the money devoted to 2004 was $2.4 billion more than usual. In other words, the "Budget Authority" for 2003 was $50,868,759,000 versus $55,383,203,000, for a difference of 8.87% not including the additional appropriations that are sure to find their way into the hands of the Education Department sometime next year.
In summary, it is only through a combination of selective data and careful parsing of words that David Corn is able to exploit the habitual budgetary tricks of the federal government to call the President of the United States a liar. And his faulty conclusion has probably already caught on sufficiently that careful analysis of boring numbers will not prevent it from becoming "common knowledge." I came across the suggestion of a "lie" on Absit Invidia who linked to CalPundit as well as to the opposing side by Steve Verdan, and it has surely spread elsewhere.
Mind you, I think the increases are a mistake and will not ultimately improve American education, I think the government is already much too big, and I think the President would do well to remember his base before guys like me stop debunking liberal deception. Nonetheless, as has become my constant refrain: could we at least have an honest debate about why he's wrong instead of polemical number flinging?
Posted by Justin Katz @ 07:53 AM EST
mark @ 12/26/2003 05:45 AM EST