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Photo credit: Jessie Owen (Creative Commons)

Last week, we decoded Obama’s budget proposal for you. This week, we’re taking it a step further – we’re going to explain the language politicians on Capitol Hill use everyday.

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Seriously, are you ever confused by what you hear from Washington? It’s no surprise if you are. Everyone is.

And it’s not our fault. America is a country full of plain-spoken people. Good-hearted people who mean what they say and say what they mean.

But Capitol Hill lives in an alternate reality. Members, staff, and even the media up here don’t often say what they mean. Instead, they say what they think you want to hear.

Misuse of language is a truly bi-partisan affliction in our government. Even a cursory review of congressional speeches reveals a pattern of language manipulation.

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And it creates great animosity toward our leaders. Words are used by members of Congress to mislead – call it a blueprint for illusion, obfuscation, and distraction.

Indeed, the congressional dictionary has words with unusual meanings. So today, I’m going to help you decipher the words found in the secret Capitol Hill dictionary.


This is the congressman’s code word for government spending. When he or she says “we require more investment,” they really mean: “we must increase spending on some pet project.”

The word “investment” seems reassuring. Typically, it connotes a venture that will generate a profit.

On Capitol Hill, nothing could be further from the truth. The returns envisioned are political or personal. A supporter or the member themselves is benefiting by receiving greater influence or aid… but a profit? No way.

Pay a Fair Share

This phrase is used by congressmen seeking the redistribution of wealth.

But what it actually means is that entrepreneurs and other productive business owners are not paying adequate taxes, and more of their income ought to be “contributed” to the authorities for redistribution to deserving constituencies.

Congress never offers a criterion as to what is a “fair share”. Naturally, a congressman’s boosters are contributing their “fair share”, regardless of how much they actually pay. Normal Americans, on the other hand…


A representative may frequently talk of the necessity of increasing revenues.  Many times, they use this word in conjunction with the phrase “millionaires and billionaires.”

Be aware: this almost always means taxes are headed higher.

Millionaires and billionaires, from the vantage point of Capitol Hill, include most middle class families. Sometimes it means any family making more than $250,000. But as in the case of the fiscal cliff deal sealed this January, millionaires and billionaires meant everyone.

Trust me, math skills are absolutely not a requirement to be in Congress. In fact, it’s best if you don’t understand the huge numeric difference between 250,000 and one billion. Understanding math would just introduce far too much logic into the equation.

Spending Reductions

This word has the most bizarre meaning of all.

In the Tax Code, spending reductions have nothing to do with spending at all. Spending reductions just means higher taxes.

So why the confusing language? Well, every congressman likes to assume the mantle of deficit hawk. So they call a tax increase a spending reduction.

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The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by

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