Is It a Cut, an Increase, or What?
'A Billion Here, a Billion There' ...
The Root of All Evil?
Democrats talk of draconian cuts in the budget. Republicans, aghast, say that what the Democrats characterize as "cuts" are really increases, albeit smaller increases.
Who's telling the truth?
In my opinion, they're both telling the truth -- but from different perspectives. It's a matter of judgment.
It's like two people witnessing the same event, but coming away with totally different conclusions.
For instance, if two people see a passerby give a homeless person a half-dollar for a cup of coffee each may come away with an entirely different view. One might see that as a kindly act designed to relieve the plight of someone who's down on his luck; the other may see it not as a kindly act but rather as a disservice to the individual who likely would use the half-dollar to buy alcohol or support his drug habit.
No one can say with certainty that one position is right and the other is wrong, but one can certainly express a strong personal opinion one way or the other.
It's all in how you look at it. It's the same with budget cuts.
Sometimes when you spend a great deal of time and energy looking at details or at peripheral matters, you can lose perspective.
I think this was what the late Sen. Everett Dirksen was getting at when he said (paraphrasing): A billion here and a billion there and pretty soon you're talking about a lot of money.
It's easier to understand why politicians have trouble figuring out when a cut is a cut, and when a cut is not a cut, when you get away from the big items like Medicaid and Welfare and take a look at the issue from a personal viewpoint.
Suppose you were employed for many years by a corporate giant who started you at a moderate salary but gave you a 10 percent pay increase every year. After four or five years of increases -- all things being equal -- you might begin to think of them as "normal."
After you've celebrated 10 or 15 years with the company -- and every year, like clockwork, you were given a 10 percent increase -- you may have concluded that the company values you an employee and the increases were based on your productivity, value and loyalty to the company.
A Pay Increase Or a Pay Cut?
But, when you arrived at work today, the company said the increases this year would be five percent, not 10 percent.
No doubt some people, like the Republicans in Congress, would celebrate their good fortune in receiving the five percent "increase." After all, casting aside such things as inflation and a growing need to provide for retirement, your pay check will indeed show an increase.
Others, however, might see the unusual omission of the normal increase as a cut in pay, especially if they were counting on the income to meet their current -- and probably higher -- ongoing expenses.
Whether it's an increase or a cut is truly in the eye of the beholder.
Finding Common Ground
Sincere and honest people often will disagree on important issues; that's expected. But it's not the difference of opinion that's important.
What is important is that each side make every effort to reach common ground, try to understand the other side of the issue, and not to let partisan politics keep anyone from working for the overall good of the country.
I wrote this column as a "My View" for The Hour newspaper of Norwalk, Conn., on Feb. 17, 1996.