Today's Washington Post has an excellent article by David A. Fahrenthold on the gimmicks used by both Democrats and Republicans in the April 2011 budget deal to create phantom 'cuts' in federal spending:
In the real world, in fact, many of their “cuts” cut nothing at all. The Transportation Department got credit for “cutting” a $280 million tunnel that had been canceled six months earlier. It also “cut” a $375,000 road project that had been created by a legislative typo, on a road that did not exist.
At the Census Bureau, officials got credit for a whopping $6 billion cut, simply for obeying the calendar. They promised not to hold the expensive 2010 census again in 2011.
Today, an examination of 12 of the largest cuts shows that, thanks in part to these gimmicks, federal agencies absorbed $23 billion in reductions without losing a single employee...
Congress, for instance, “cut” $14.6 million from its own budget to build the Capitol Visitor Center. That changed nothing. The center was already built...
At the Pentagon, for instance, the April 2011 bill required a whopping $6.2 billion cut to military construction. But through a combination of congressionally installed gimmicks and military ingenuity, the Pentagon escaped nearly unscathed...Total real-world savings: $25.2 million. Just 0.4 percent of the total that Congress counted as “cut” on paper.
Not all the bill’s cuts were illusory, however. The Post’s analysis found five large cuts that turned out to be very real.
None of them actually caused an agency in Washington to shed federal personnel. Instead, they reduced the money that passed through those agencies to state and local projects...
Now Washington is facing the “sequester,” which would cut $85 billion starting March 1. The administration has sought to persuade Republicans to cancel it or replace it with a package of spending cuts and tax increases.
That, at times, has made for an awkward argument. Two years later, it appears that some of the budget cuts from April 2011 turned out to be less painful than originally believed. But the White House says that can’t happen again.
This time, it says, the cuts would be very real and very painful.
“Reductions that were possible in 2011 are not possible in 2013,” said [Robert] Gordon, of the Office of Management and Budget. “The resources that could be cut, they’ve been cut. The low-hanging fruit is gone.”