Zinni's article [on why it's absolutely necessary to keep government funding of the U.S. Institute of Peace] is a good example of a genre of literature we'll be seeing a lot of as the president and Congress grapple with the federal deficit (and each other): the special pleading. Whether it takes the form of an op-ed piece, a speech, a press release or an open letter to the president, there are certain familiar elements. Among them:
1. Expression of general support for deficit reduction. Reference to easy answers (there are none). Reference to burden (all must share).
2. Reference to babies and bathwater. Former should not be discarded with latter.
3. This program/agency/tax break is different. A bargain for the taxpayers. Pays for itself many times over. To eliminate or cut would be bad for children/our troops.
4. Cost is small (a) as percentage of total budget; (b) compared with budget of Pentagon; (c) compared with projected cost of healthcare.
5. Optional comparisons to cost of just one jet fighter or 3.7 minutes of war on terror.
6. Names of famous people who support this program or tax cut, especially Colin Powell. Other good names: Madeleine Albright, Natalie Portman, George H.W. Bush (not W), Warren Buffett.
7. This is not about fair, responsible, across-the-board budget cutting. This is about the other side irresponsibly pursuing its ideological agenda, penalizing programs it doesn't like.
This last complaint, usually heard from Democrats about the budget that has passed the Republican-controlled House, is an odd one. If you're looking for places to save money, why wouldn't you concentrate on programs you don't approve of? Equal across-the-board cuts, of good programs and bad programs alike, are the opposite of responsible budgeting.