In this political season much talk centers on the federal budget. Who gets what? Who gets hit? And all that. As a rule, I distrust budgets. I much prefer to see what is actually spent and where. Real numbers for real actions. Only when the books are closed and verified will I know what actually took place. Except for the Defense Department.
Budgets, on the other hand, are a promise and if we are talking politics, we are talking promises. And expectations. At this stage a budget is a a financial and policy road map that tells where this politician or that politician will steer the country.
Ezra Klein does a good job of digging into the budgetary weeds to show what Representative Paul Ryan's Republican budget will do, even if Ryan himself hasn't worked out the details. Klein comes to the inescapable conclusion that "You can't cut spending without cutting spending." Someone must take the hit. If not me, then you. Or someone else.
That's the detail. Klein works back to the broader assumptions and policies underlying Ryan's budget choices, which is a discussion Ryan would rather avoid. I read his budget and see a grim America: decaying public infrastructure, increasing economic insecurity and declining quality of life for all but the rich. That tells me all I need to know in order to make a principled choice in the matter.
That will get me through the political season but a budget is not the end of the story. The politicians may think they've made a decision but when the money hits the pipeline it can go in unsuspected directions. Down in the weeds lie many adjustments, transfers and encumbrances that sometimes account for real differences.
Only when the money is actually spent do we know how good were those budgetary promises.