It must be hard to keep a straight face when you report that the President of United States going to cut $100 million from a $3.5 trillion budget and then say he is serious about cutting government spending.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs couldn't pull it off. In the White House's April 20 press briefing, Gibbs was asked by Associated Press reporter Jennifer Loven why the $100-million target was so small and she even accused him of making a joke about it.
"I'm being completely sincere that only in Washington, D.C. is $100 million not a lot of money," Gibbs said. "It is where I'm from. It is where I grew up. And I think it is for hundreds of millions of Americans."
But somehow, CNN correspondent Elaine Quijano pulled it off. Originally on CNN's April 20 "American Morning," and again on CNN throughout April 20, Quijano reported the Obama administration was making an effort to cut spending.
"Basically this is about President Obama trying to show that he is serious about cutting back on government spending," Quijano said on "American Morning." "As you know, critics have really blasted the Obama administration for its spending plan, saying that it's going to be putting a tremendous financial burden on future generations."
According Quijano and various other media reports, the cut target is $100 million. But she didn't explain to viewers just how small that is in the grand scheme.
"So today, as you mentioned - President Obama is going to be convening his full cabinet for the very first time," Quijano said. "They'll be meeting in the Cabinet Room later today. And two senior administration officials tell my colleague Susan Malvo that's he's going to challenge them to cut $100 million over 90 days and that after the end of that 90-day period they're going to have to basically report back on how they were able to cut back on those expenses."
Harvard University economics professor Greg Mankiw put it in perspective in a post on his blog on April 20 - that these cuts are much ado about nothing.
"To put those numbers in perspective, imagine that the head of a household with annual spending of $100,000 called everyone in the family together to deal with a $34,000 budget shortfall," Mankiw wrote. "How much would he or she announce that spending had be cut? By $3 over the course of the year--approximately the cost of one latte at Starbucks. The other $33,997? We can put that on the family credit card and worry about it next year."
Quijano didn't inform viewers of that reality, but she wasn't hesitant to trot out the Obama administration's talking points - citing other relatively inconsequential cuts.
"Now at the same time, President Obama is expected to give some examples of how departments are already working to trim the budget fat if you will," Quijano said.
According to Quijano, the following examples were signs of he was serious about fiscal responsibility:
- Department of Homeland Security - working to save an estimated $52 million over five years by buying bulk office supplies.
- Department of Agriculture saving an estimated $62 million over 15 years by consolidating seven offices into a single facility.
- Department of Veterans Affairs saving an estimated $17.8 million by either canceling or delaying various conferences in addition to using video conferences as a cost-saving measure.
"So all this John [Roberts] really intended to show fiscal responsibility," Quijano concluded.