Nicole's Reviews > Red Ink: Inside the High-Stakes Politics of the Federal Budget

Red Ink by David Wessel
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Feb 19, 2016

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bookshelves: ner, nonfiction, 2012, pick-a-year-challenge-2012, politics, washington-dc, economics, business
Read from August 20 to 22, 2012

Disclaimer: I work for a U.S. Congressman. I spend months and months of my work year looking at the federal budgets for the Department of Commerce, the Department of Interior, the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Energy (those are the government agencies in my "issues portfolio"). The news is continuously on the TV that is mounted on my desk right by my two monitor computer set-up (the monitor on the left is a mosaic of WSJ, NYT, WaPo, CNN, etc.). I use words like budget baseline, spending offset, kick the can down the road, fiscal cliff, and continuing budget resolution on a daily basis. I fight to keep the programs my boss supports from being cut to increase spending somewhere else.

My point of giving you a little insight to my professional life: I understand more about the budget than the typical American. I know about discretionary versus mandatory spending and why the mandatory spending is what is getting us in trouble. I know the main tenets of the Republican and Democratic parties when it comes to deficit reduction and the fundamental differences in both. I know that both R and D plans require a perfect storm of Congressional harmony.

For someone who doesn't have the intimate, every day interaction with our budget as I do (97% of the people who pick it up, probably) this book is a great overview of the budget and deficit issues we are currently facing. However, it is very much a 30,000 foot view. The writing is clear, concise, and helped along by a frugal number of graphs and charts when appropriate. I think this book is a quick, fairly nonpartisan (I think there is a little leaning, but not much) snapshot of the important issues driving the budget.

For me personally, I greatly appreciated the history of how we got into the current fiscal boondoggle. It was nice to better understand how we went from a budget surplus in the late 1990's to the annual deficit we currently operate under. However, I think I am ready for a more detailed explanation of what different deficit reduction plans actually entail and how that translates into various forms of savings.

For example, yesterday, I spent a substantial amount of time researching the political ads that say ObamaCare is being funded by cuts to Medicare. I don't need to know the nitty gritty, but I do want to know why one political party says this while the other doesn't while they are both looking at the same numbers and, in fact, both made the exact same proposed cuts to Medicare. Also, the only reason I have time to do things like this is because we're in August recess - those magical 5 weeks every year when all members of Congress go home to work/campaign and staffers stress level drops significantly as they actually have time to do research and become well-versed on platform planks.

This whole rant was a long-winded way of saying: this is a good book that explains important fiscal issues that will be more and more in the spotlight as we ramp up to November 6. If you have a good knowledge of the current issues, this book won't be a waste of your time, but it may not give you the satisfaction you were hoping for.
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