Jackie Calmes Twice Sees an Obama Goal of Budget 'Austerity'

No wonder it's so hard to cut federal spending: A limited "spending freeze" of $250 billion over three years, out of a 2001 budget of $3.8 trillion, is twice trotted out as a radical "austerity" measure.

Do Times reporters need a thesaurus to accompany their budget coverage?

Jackie Calmes and Robert Pear previewed President Obama's $3.8 trillion budget for fiscal year 2011 for Sunday's paper: "Obama Budget to Add to Programs, While Freezing Much Domestic Spending."

The "Much Domestic Spending" part of the headline is itself a bit much, considering that, as the Times reported, the freeze would amount to "less than 3 percent of the total deficits projected through 2020."

Still, the Times used Obama's push for that limited "spending freeze" to imply Obama was pushing for budget "austerity." The relevant definition from Merriam-Webster of "austerity" is "enforced or extreme economy."

The three-year freeze would save $250 billion over the coming decade, assuming the overall spending on the domestic programs is permitted to rise no more than the inflation rate for the remainder of the decade - an austerity that neither party has ever achieved in Washington. Even so, the $250 billion in savings would be less than 3 percent of the total deficits projected through 2020.

Calmes repeated the "austerity" canard in almost identical language in Monday's followup, "$100 Billion Increase In Deficit Is Forecast."

Another $250 billion would be saved by freezing for three years the overall spending for domestic programs that make up about one-eighth of the federal budget, and by holding spending thereafter to the rate of inflation - a level of austerity that has no modern precedent in Washington.

Colleague Elisabeth Bumiller used the same term in a budget story from February 2005, portraying President George W. Bush's $2.57 trillion budget as "austere."

No wonder it's so hard to cut federal spending.