How the Washington wink-wink works to cut the federal budget 

That was a lovely piece of chamber music President Barack Obama performed at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Monday, but look beyond the soothing words and you will find a classic piece of Washington wink-wink designed to reassure the special interests that they have nothing to worry about.

“I am eager to work with both parties and with the Chamber to take additional steps across the budget to put our nation on a sounder fiscal footing,” Obama told the assembled business executives.

Those words came a day after Office of Management and Budget Director Jack Lew wrote in the New York Times that Obama believes while the government has to make room for the investments we need to foster growth, we have to cut what we cannot afford.

That sounds great, which is the first wink. The second wink comes when politicians who talked about cutting federal spending even as they ran it up to record levels actually make what Lew called the tough choices.

Lew provided a perfect illustration, noting how Obama supports community block grants because they enable the sort of community organizing the president pursued prior to being elected to public office.

Despite that background, Lew said, Obama is proposing a whopping total of $775 million in spending cuts as part of his 2012 federal budget proposal. Yes, you read that right, $775 million. That is the second wink because the deficit for 2011 was $1.5 trillion in a budget of nearly $4 trillion.

That is the Washington wink-wink in action — talk a great game on the looming fiscal disaster, but then propose only the smallest possible cuts and do absolutely nothing about the entitlements Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid that are bankrupting the nation.

Sometimes the best way to illustrate the Washington wink-wink on spending is via charts. Blogger Doug Ross has done a superb job of putting the Obama-Lew spending cuts in visual context with the chart that accompanies this column.

It appears there are only two colors, red for the 2011 deficit and blue for the 2011 spending that was paid for through tax and other federal revenue. But trust me, there is a third color on that chart, green, for the $775 million in spending cuts. It is tiny.

Elections are the way we demand our money back from politicians who think we do not see through their Washington wink-winks.

Mark Tapscott is editorial page editor of The Washington Examiner and proprietor of Tapscott’s Copy Desk blog at

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