The Download: Putting the budge in the budget

Who blinked? Who will blink? And is blinking overrated?

Pundits and experts are beginning to pore over the deal to cut $38.5 billion from the federal budget, and what they’re finding is that not all is what it appears. The reductions range from real to illusory to downright magical, and few, especially on the right, are pleased with what they’re discovering. It should make for an even more intense battle as Congress debates the merits of US Rep. Paul Ryan’s relatively bare-bones spending bill versus President Obama’s somewhat rosier 12-year outline to reduce the deficit.

After further review, the National Review has determined that House Speaker John Boehner’s $38.5 billion budget deal is exactly what the GOP leader claims he will no longer allow – “business as usual.” In dissecting the budget deal, several media sources, including the Associated Press and Washington Post, found that nearly a third of the cuts are part legerdemain, part gimmickry, and part budgetary furniture shuffling. Ladies and gentlemen, watch carefully. At no time do their fingers leave their hands.

For instance, the Commerce Department loses $6.2 billion that was intended for the decennial census. Well, it shouldn’t hurt too much because the census is complete. The $3.5 billion cut from the Children’s Health Insurance Program is money that was intended for states that go the extra mile in enrolling children into the program that officials say most states would not have earned anyway. And even if they do, there’s still enough money available for the bonuses. And so on.

In fact, the Congressional Budget Office has determined the agreement will save only  $350 million when factoring in the $5 billion defense spending increase.

But there are also some very real – and potentially painful – cuts that will have a real-life impact. The Globe reports that advocates for various social service programs in Massachusetts say the federal budget deal will hit the people they serve hard. The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development is losing $20 million for a program that was aimed at rooting out mortgage fraud and abuse. The Justice Department will not be able to distribute $900 million to hire local police, buy new technology and support other services.

Hardliners on both sides are screaming the deal gave away the store to the other and sets the tone for the upcoming battles. Obama yesterday jumped into the deficit-reduction fray, and the Atlantic contrasts his plan with those of Ryan and Obama’s independent deficit commission. The magazine also publishes a super-handy pie chart that puts those tax hikes in perspective, graphically.

But when all is said and done, many are asking has there truly been a sea change in approach — or is it still just angels dancing on the head of a pin?

                                                                                                                                                                  –JACK SULLIVAN  


Speaking of budgets, we have our own unfolding drama in Massachusetts. The House budget released yesterday strikes an aggressive posture toward public-sector unions in its attempt to rein in health care spending for public employees. Public employee leaders call the proposal to end collective bargaining prerogatives over health insurance benefits “Wisconsin-esque.” WBUR analyzes the House plan. CommonWealth looks at the two main cost-saving proposals – on municipal health care and legal representation for the indigent. A Boston Herald editorial calls the House’s health care initiative “the single most important step that Beacon Hill can take” to relieve the fiscal pressure on municipalities.

Caesar’s Entertainment is close to a deal to manage the still-illegal prospective casino at Suffolk Downs in East Boston.

Tuesday was Tax Freedom Day in most of the country, the theoretical point at which workers have earned enough to pay their taxes and the money’s all theirs from this point forward. But in Massachusetts, that day is today, and Keller@Large asks, Is that hurting our economy?

Unlike Evergreen Solar, the state’s investment in Canton firm Organogenesis is paying off, CommonWealth reports.

Christy Mihos still owes $25,000 of the $70,000 fine he was hit with for rampant campaign finance violations, and  Attorney General Martha Coakley says he needs to pay up.

CommonWealth’s story in the new spring issue on clerk-magistrates is getting some attention. Reporter Jack Sullivan was a guest yesterday on Howie Carr’s show to talk about the findings, while Fox 25’s “Morning Show” did an interview with him as well. Fox has a heightened interest in the story because the station has been chronicling the troubles with Roxbury District Court Clerk-magistrate Michael Neighbors, who was recently reassigned to Suffolk Superior Court because of allegations of about his lack of attendance and growing problems in his office with missed deadlines and filings.


Former city workers in Lawrence describe a hostile atmosphere at City Hall in lawsuits. They also say Mayor William Lantigua’s girlfriend, who works at City Hall, told them they would be fired when he came into office, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

Police in Ipswich are trying to trace the source of an email rating 22 high school girls who don’t have a date to the senior prom, the Salem News reports.

The MetroWest Daily News blasts a Framingham decision to deny a permit to a gourmet food and speciality furniture superstore in the name of protecting small businesses.

Don’t blame Tom Menino for the giant pit in the middle of Boston, says Tom Menino.

Take the money and run? The Newton Tab argues that Mayor Setti Warren should accept the pay raise that his predecessor turned down.


US Rep. John Tierney says he will vote against the cost-cutting budget
compromise that would avoid a government shutdown, the Gloucester Times reports.

Joshua Green argues that in avoiding a government shutdown, Congress just made the job ahead of it much tougher.


David Bernstein tracks the alliances of key New Hampshire operatives.

Wendy Kaminer warns against leaping to judgment on Sen. Scott Brown’s handling of his sexual abuse revelation — a stance that puts her squarely at odds with Eileen McNamara.

The Lowell Sun, in an editorial, says Brown’s vagueness on issues is getting tiresome.

A former political aide to George W. Bush  says Republicans are courting political peril by giving air time to birthers.


The trail of auto insurance fraud in “paper accidents” is described in a Salem court case, the Salem News reports.

Is New York beating Massachusetts when it comes to tech start-ups?  


Paul Levy isn’t thoroughly convinced that allowing the state the power to set insurance rates is worse than letting the market determine the costs because he’s not sure the market’s been all that effective, either.

The agency charged with implementing the state’s pioneering 2006 health care law is expected to receive approval today for a plan that keeps the costs of subsidized health insurance for lower-income residents in check in part by restricting care to more limited provider networks.


Emergency management officials on Cape Cod question whether a 10-mile evacuation zone around the Pilgrim nuclear power plant is sufficient.

Northampton considers an ordinance that would make it easier for developers to build solar arrays.

In response to the new MassINC survey on global warming, a  Framingham State University professor says people are “risk-averse” and simply don’t want to think about a problem like global warming.


UMass Dartmouth will offer students a new wi-fi service that allows access up to two miles from campus, becoming only the second college in the nation to utilize the advanced technology.


The New York police officer who fatally shot a college football player from Easton is being named “Officer of the Year” by his union, WBUR reports. The decision to honor the Pleasantville, New York, police officer who shot Danroy Henry sparks anger among Henry’s family.
NECN has an interview with Henry’s mother. A retired Boston detective tells Margery Eagan the award is “outrageous and frankly disgraceful.” Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham says the move was either dumb or insensitive.


The Bay State Banner reports on a group of Boston journalists who discussed the state of the city’s media at last weekend’s National Conference for Media Reform.


Brian McGrory has a crazy tale of a family feud, a cruise ship, and a pledge to the Boston Foundation to fund youth violence prevention programs.