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How To Spend $108 Billion For Nothing   April 23rd, 2009
An amazing example of how Washington cooks the books       

 
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I've never actually seen this happen in real-time, but the Obama administration is attempting to further cook the government books to make it look like their deficit is smaller than it really is. This is exactly the kind of weird accounting that allowed Clinton to claim a surplus even as his administration borrowed more every single year.

New U.S. commitments to the International Monetary Fund are setting off a fracas at home, with the White House muscling congressional scorekeepers to show a minimal impact on taxpayers and on the administration's own budget...

The debate itself goes back many years and reflects the ambivalence in Congress over how to treat U.S. commitments to international institutions like the IMF.

For decades, the appropriations committees have been traditionally tapped to carry the weight. And since lawmakers must authorize the contributions, the long-standing CBO practice has been to score the money as if it were an appropriation of real budget authority.

But since the risk of losses is minimal, no direct spending or outlays are charged to the transaction, and therefore there is no projected increase in the deficit. This compromise has held up for many quota increases for the IMF, but in a bailout-weary Washington, it's little comfort for a White House already under attack for spending too much.


What this amounts to is the Obama administration arguing that sending $108 billion to the IMF is essentially like transferring $108 billion from "our" bank to the IMF's "bank" but that it's still our money. In reality, it isn't. According to the IMF:

The SDR is neither a currency, nor a claim on the IMF. Rather, it is a potential claim on the freely usable currencies of IMF members. Holders of SDRs can obtain these currencies in exchange for their SDRs in two ways: first, through the arrangement of voluntary exchanges between members; and second, by the IMF designating members with strong external positions to purchase SDRs from members with weak external positions.


So the U.S. Government sending $108 billion to the IMF amounts to borrowing $108 billion from the public (or Federal Reserve), increasing our national debt by $108 billion, and sending that money to the IMF and we get something that's not a currency nor a claim on the IMF, nor which can readily converted back into dollars on demand.

What the Obama administration wants is for that $108 billion that the government borrows to not be counted against the administration's deficit even though it will cause the national debt to go up by $108 billion.

This simply reinforces what I wrote in the Clinton Surplus Myth and government accounting articles: There are so many sketchy accounting tricks that have been played by politicians over the years to make their deficits look smaller, the "official CBO deficit" no longer reflects reality.

The only way we can determine the real deficit is to look at the national debt. If the national debt went up there was a deficit. If it went down there was a surplus. It's really that simple.


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