Members of Congress debate budget with Big Macs

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Congress loves to debate pork, even if it has to use pictures of hamburgers to make a point.

On Tuesday, two members of Congress got into a detailed discussion over inflation, with Rep. Chris Van Hollen using pictures of hamburgers to argue that inflation estimates are necessary to undercut future budgets.

Holding up a chart that showed the average cost of a McDonald’s Big Mac in 2004 ($2.71) compared with its cost today ($4.62), Maryland Democrat Van Hollen argued that not adjusting budget numbers for inflation equates to a net cut.

"That's not Washington math, it's reality based math!” Van Hollen said in comments first picked up by the Washington Post after a reporter noticed the unusual visual tools on display during a House budget debate being aired on C-SPAN.

Van Hollen and Georgia Republican Rep. Bob Woodall were debating the Baseline Reform Act of 2013, which would effectively stop Congress from automatically approving budget increases tied to inflation.

So, why did Van Hollen use pictures of hamburgers to make his point about dollar values? A creative Capitol Hill staffer may have been inspired by the Economist’s Big Mac Index, which launched in the mid-'80s as a way of comparing currency value in two countries. For example, the $4.62 Big Mac in the U.S. today costs only $2.74 in China.

Woodall defended the proposal, saying, “This bill puts a stop to Washington math forever.”

Still, Woodall was quick to praise Van Hollen’s Big Mac chart before descending into his own love of the McDonald’s value menu.

"I think I've got one of the best chart teams on Capitol Hill. I'll say to my friend from Maryland that it's a great Big Mac chart, and I think it drives home my point exactly,” he said. “Which is, federal government math assumes that if you got to buy a Big Mac 10 years ago, you're still buying a Big Mac today. I just wonder if that's true. I've switched to the value menu. I get the McDouble from time to time for $.99. The Spicy McChicken is now a part of what I do. I have to get into my wallet and justify the expense, and when the prices double, sometimes we, as Americans, have to substitute."

Regardless of which side of the debate you fall on, there was one falsehood on display at the House committee hearing on Tuesday. As The Washington Post noted, those hamburgers used in Van Hollen’s charts weren’t actually Big Macs.


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