NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Something very strange is happening: In a round-the-clock news cycleabout the U.S. federal budget, there is no mentioning of the actualgovernment spending numbers involved. I watch CNBC almost every hour of the day, and even the premier financial TV channel has managed toavoid the real numbers like the plague.The way we talk about tax and spend numbers are a little differentfrom each other. On the tax side, we are dealing with percentages.Individuals can change their behavior if a tax is increased or decreased. So we can increase from 15% to 20%, or cut from 35% to25%, but we don't know what this means for the total amount oftax collected. We don't know how raising and cutting tax rates impact behavior. For example, if a tax rate is increased, tax revenue may or may not goup depending on how many people will now choose to retire, moveabroad, engage in more tax planning, or shift their income to someother field or into the future. Spending, on the other hand, is measured in absolute dollars -- notpercentages. It's therefore a lot easier to budget. Last year, thefederal government spent $3.8 trillion -- not a percentage ofanything. It's an absolute dollar amount. We can control it; we setit. But apparently, not talk about it. So let's talk about it, for a change! The "Fiscal Cliff" negotiation, soon to be followed by the surely eventrickier debt limit negotiation, is filled with talk about spendingcuts. So what are these spending cuts? I'm sure you have all heard the "spending cut" numbers: $1 trillion,$2 trillion, $3 trillion, $4 trillion... wait, did I just say $4trillion? Wasn't ALL Federal government spending last year $3.8trillion? Lesson No. 1: These spending cut numbers are always talked about in 10-year terms. It's like giving 10 binding New Year's resolutions inone fell swoop. "I will lose 20 pounds per year for 10 years." But youonly weigh 190 pounds, and that's 200 pounds over 10 years? You will weighless than zero? Huh? That brings us to the second point. Let's take a $4 trillion spendingcut, over 10 years. That's $400 billion per year. Does that meanthat spending now will be $3.8 trillion minus $400 billion, i.e., $3.4trillion, per year, for the next 10 years? Uh, no. The U.S. government talks about spending cuts measured against someimaginary number that it could have spent, in its fantasy land. Forexample, the U.S. government could have spent $5 trillion -- bystarting a war with planet Mars or Luxembourg, say -- but luckilyCongress and the president agreed to hold off on this expensiveenterprise. They estimate this war would have cost $400 billion peryear. So now we will only spend $4.6 trillion per year. Since we spent $3.8 trillion last year, a normal person would call this an $800 billion spending increase -- from $3.8 trillion per year to $4.6 trillion. Only in Washington, D.C. is this referred to as a $4 trillion spending cut -- $400 billion per year over 10 years.