The title above – “Debt Limit : Obama Bests GOP, Tea Party Via Budget Control Act” – is tame. It should read “President Obama fools GOP into thinking it got what it wanted, but some Progressives are too myopic to notice.” What’s obvious is the media didn’t read what’s called “Budget Control Act of 2011,” and went with a lot of generalizations about the contents of this 74-page document.
So, I looked around the Internet until I found a downloadable copy of the bill. You can get it here: “Budget Control Act of 2011.”.
In System Dynamics, the modeling paradigm and way of thinking created by MIT Professor Jay Forester in 1956, one learns to take a complex problem in society and drill-down to its “drivers:” those actions that make the problem or can eliminate the problem.
In the case of the Budget Control Act of 2011, the one driver is something called a “breach.” The term is used several times in the first two pages of the bill. Here’s an example:
(5) LOOK-BACK. – If, after June 30, an appropriation for the fiscal year in progress is enacted that causes a breach within a category for that year (after taking into account any sequestration of amounts within that category), the discretionary spending limits for that category for the next fiscal year shall be reduced by the amount or amounts of that breach.
There are two problems: first, the term “breach” is never defined in the bill, leaving the reader to think that it means an override of spending over the discretionary spending limits for that category for the next year.
The problem is the entire first two pages are written as if we are at zero balance, where there’s no overage of spending. Then, later in the text of the bill, the language dealing with discretionary spending limits specifically concerns new spending, and then the limit in increased each year.
So a savvy federal budget planner could engineer an argument that certain appropriations are not “new” but for existing program spending mandates.
Let’s be clear, the Budget Control Act does set out controls, but for all practical purposes, they’re not the hard systems the media describes. In fact, as I read through the 74 pages of text, and thought about what I’d listened to on CNN, MSNBC, and – well, I don’t watch Fox News – and read in many online news pages, it became clear to me that a lot of people didn’t sweat the details of the document.
So, where the Budget Control Act may not mention Unemployment Insurance, it doesn’t harm it. In other words, UE can be extended within this template, and it would be like nothing ever happened. And while it doesn’t call for tax increases, the language does not block the introduction of new taxes.
All of this, this Budget Control Act, is a template for behavior and the result of a complicated political game. It’s a “template” because you can do a lot of things in it, if you know what you’re doing. Note that the bill uses the word “shall” and not “must” or “will” in much of the text – “shall” basically means “intend to,” even if you never really do so, anyway.
The Budget Control Act is a wink and a shrug given by a group of lawmakers who seems to really like and respect each other so much, they’re crafting ways to make each other look both good and bad in the process.
I write that, because it’s either that case, or the other, which is that President Obama just helped his Republican friends flat bamboozle the Tea Party.