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MUDDLED DEFINITION OF `CUT' IN CONGRESS IS UNKINDEST CUT

My Webster's dictionary lists an amazing 60 definitions for the word "cut." But it needs a 61st to cover the oddball way that Congress uses it to mislead Americans.

If a politician here mentions a spending "cut," defense "cut" or even a school lunch "cut," it usually does NOT mean a reduction from current funding levels - as would those 60 other definitions.In Washington, it usually means reducing funding only from what it otherwise would have grown to become without any changes in current law. So a "cut" can actually be an increase.

Confusing? Of course. It's meant to be. After all, politicians get plenty of mileage claiming they "cut" spending when it actually increased, or by attacking enemies for "cutting" popular services that actually are increasing, too.

Utah's most junior members of Congress - Rep. Enid Waldholtz and Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah - are still new enough to chafe at such use of the word and often warn that understanding it is the key to see through Washington's political blue smoke and mirrors.

An example came recently when Bennett spoke at a seminar on health-care reform after an Ivy League professor had just complained Congress had "cut and cut" Medicaid for the last 10 years - and was amazed it hadn't disappeared.

Bennett quickly noted the professor was using Washington's weird definition. Congress is actually spending much more on Medicaid now than it did 10 years ago despite all those "cuts." All they did was reduce spending from even greater amounts they would have reached without changes in the law.

Bennett added, to the embarrassment of the professor, "Only in Washington is a cut actually an increase - at least that's the way the folks back in Utah would see it."

Another example came when Democratic leaders last month attacked Republican welfare reforms, saying they would drastically "cut" the school lunch program. But school lunch funding would increase 4.5 percent over current levels - but not as much as they would have grown as under current law.

That and other attacks against GOP welfare "cuts" prompted Waldholtz to say, "I wish I could diet the way Democrats are talking about budget cuts."

She said, "It would work like this: If I sat down today and said at my current rate of eating, I would gain 50 pounds by the end of the year" but changed so that "I'm only going to gain 25 pounds by the end of the year, according to their budget rules, I just lost 25 pounds."

She added, "I know better, and my waist line knows better."

Of course, both parties - not just Democrats - misuse the word "cut."

For example, Republican presidents for years proposed numerous steps they said would "cut" or "reduce" (yes, they misuse that word too) the federal deficit.

Cutting the deficit means only that the nation isn't going as broke quite as fast as it otherwise would.

To illustrate, if someone went into debt $10 a day but suddenly went into debt only $9 a day instead, Washington politicians would hail that as a 10 percent deficit reduction. Everyone else would say they are still going in the hole more every day.

Adding to confusion, "deficit" (meaning, in Washington, the amount by which the nation is going into debt each year) is different than the "national debt" - or the total amount that the nation owes from its borrowing through the years.

A balanced budget would move the deficit to zero - but would not begin to reduce the $3 trillion national debt. Budgets with surpluses (more money received than spent) would be needed to do that - and the nation has not had any of them since Richard Nixon was president.

Until voters catch on to such tactics, the nation will only see the Washington definition of "cuts" - in other words, real increases in spending and debt. After all, they bring real political benefits until the charade ends.