During a speech yesterday to the Associated Press, President Obama described Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-WI) budget proposal as a “Trojan Horse” that is using the disguise of a deficit reduction plan, but is actually “an attempt to impose a radical vision on our country.” Obama laid out the possible implications of the cuts in the Ryan budget “if the cuts were to be spread out evenly.” Soon after, Ryan responded to the speech on his Facebook page suggesting that “the assumption that our budget makes these kinds of indiscriminate cuts is false.”
And Fox News has Ryan's back.
On America Live, Fox News chief Washington correspondent Jim Angle, ostensibly part of Fox's “straight news” division, accused President Obama of using “sleight of hand” when describing the potential cuts under the Ryan budget. He went on to say Obama was “assuming across the boards cuts, but the cuts he mentioned are not part of the Ryan budget.” Fox's analysis of Obama's speech is almost identical to Paul Ryan's response.
However, as Fox News contributor Sally Kohn pointed out later in the same show, Obama was filling in the blanks in Ryan's budget, which proposes large cuts in certain areas of federal spending but does not specify which programs should be cut.
As The Washington Post's Ezra Klein has explained Ryan's budget lays out numbers for “categories of spending” but does not specifically identify cuts in each particular category.
So while the cuts likely wouldn't be spread out evenly within those categories if Ryan's budget were enacted, it would be “unfair for Obama to assume which functions those would be, and how large the cuts would end up being” :
This is an argument over semantics, and both sides have a point. Ryan's budget sets numbers for categories of spending (see the tables at the end of this document). So “Transportation” gets $787 billion over the next decade. “Income Security” gets $4.7 trillion. “Global War on Terrorism” gets $494 billion. But there's no specificity within these categories. It doesn't drill into those categories to say what, exactly, gets cut, and how much it gets cut by.
So how big of a cut does the Bureau of Land Management take? We don't know. How big of a cut does the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association's weather forecasting services get? No clue. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention? Sorry. The “Concurrent Resolution on the Budget” offers some “Illustrative Policy Options” for each category, but nothing like a specific list of cuts to programs.
So Ryan is right: the cuts won't be spread out evenly. But Obama is right, too; Ryan doesn't say how they will be spread out. If the cuts aren't spread evenly, then certain governmental functions will have to take much larger cuts than Obama is proposing in his speech. But it would be even more unfair for Obama to assume which functions those would be, and how large the cuts would end up being.
Since Ryan does not identify in what cuts he actually plans to make, Obama had to make some “assumptions” in order to discuss the implication of Ryan's budget. If Angle got his way, Obama would be unable to discuss any of the specific harms that could come about from Ryan's budget since Ryan hasn't laid out where he wants to cut.