Primer: Speaking Cogently About Government Spending

In today’s age of media sound bites and consistent bias, advocates for fiscal responsibility must learn to discuss the spending problem facing the United States in a meaningful way in order to win over Americans to the sensibility of reducing government.  

This task seems monumental when faced with the truth: most people are too busy to care about rampant government spending and the media has made it truly painful to bear a discussion on the topic by routinely choosing boring or bombastic experts to discuss the morass on TV.

Why is the Federal Budget so difficult to understand?  Why do so many people tune out when the discussion turns to the trillion plus dollar deficit or the puny ‘cuts’ that Congress has so much difficulty cutting?  The reason is pretty simple according to the Job Creators Network: a whole number with 12 zeros attached to it loses all meaning for people routinely dealing with numbers into the hundreds of thousands. 

Via Job Creators Network:

We’re in this big budget mess because nobody – NOBODY – speaks the language of BIG numbers. Once we get beyond the value of our home or size of our 401k – or MAYBE the annual salary of a star athlete – the zeroes all run together and we start worrying about problems we CAN understand.

The key is to simplify the numbers into manageable amounts without losing the attention of the very people that we are trying to reach.  Here is an example that really grabs a taxpayer’s attention.  You can do this quite easily by cutting off nine zeros.  So the $3.8 trillion (3,800,000,000,000) becomes $3,800.  The Sequester cuts of $85 billion become $85 in this scenario.  Now it looks like this: 

The President says the $85 billion budget sequester hitting this year’s spending on March 1 is going to be “harsh.” In reality, think of it as $85– less than two trips to the gas station out of your $3,800. Or maybe even less than your cell phone or cable TV bill.

To hear it said that the Sequester is a devastating blow to the Federal Government’s medical research budget is such a wild stretch of the imagination, it’s just nonsensical.  Some have suggested that we need a Sequester every 90 days for the next decade to effectively realize any real budget cuts.  That’s a discussion that Congress should undertake immediately. But back to our primer; now that the numbers are simplified to the point of quick and easy understanding, many federal budget line items can be quickly analyzed for their import in relation to the whole.

The budget examined in this way enables an advocate to have a real discussion about the budget that millions of Americans could not only comprehend, but also completely identify with.  Who among us hasn’t had to cut back on eating out, or cut off the premium movie channels to pad the savings account for a vacation?  And afterwards, how many family budget trimmers were happily surprised to find that the results were positive?    

And remember, when using this analogy, that $85 dollar a month ‘cut’ is actually from future spending, it’s a cut to the additional money that you planned on spending after you got that raise.  When described like this, many more Americans will not just understand, but share our outrage.  Happy sharing!

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