‘Out of Control Spending’? Nonsense!

So says Brian Beutler at TPM. With charts! So it must be true!

[A] close look at the numbers reveals a few important, and frequently overlooked facts. Domestic discretionary spending is a small sliver of the budget. Our deficit and debts can be traced to the fact that spending on entitlement programs and defense has shot up, and tax revenues have plummeted to their lowest level in decades. But spending on domestic discretionary programs has grown much more slowly. And, if you correct for inflation, and for growing population, it turns out we’re spending exactly the same amount on these programs as we were a full decade ago.

Wait wait wait. Entitlement and defense spending has “shot up?” This is an argument against the charge of out of control spending?

The idea here is that since this money is largely devoted to education, health care, and other services that benefit broad swaths of the population, the amount of it should grow roughly with population size.

Oh. Wait. What idea? The idea — as HuffPo’s DC Bureau Chief must have only ironically confirmed to me via Twitter – that if you cut discretionary spending, you’re stupid, and if you cut entitlement spending, you’re evil?

Or — worse — the idea that there’s nothing wrong with our entitlements system that must be fixed by decreasing the size and cost of our entitlement programs?

In the wake of David Brooks’ instantly infamous column calling Republicans an abnormal party on account of its tax-cut fatalism, it’s just about time for someone to declare the Democratic party deeply abnormal as a result of its (let’s be frank) moronic fatalism on entitlements. I know for a fact that many liberals are not, in point of fact, morons. That makes it all the more disturbing that their party insists, as a matter of political principle and whatever the consequences, that the federal government expand without limit the reach and comprehensiveness of its entitlement regime.

Hands confidently agrip at the wheel of a malfunctioning rocketship on fire, they smile grandly at the twirling dials as they shoot past the ionosphere. If there is a gas pedal on this rocketship, they are flooring it. They are very much in control.

  1. Sisyphus

    Capital is fleeing, the labor pool is contracting in despair of the Obamaconomy, the savings that were not savaged in the crash have been savaged by endless “quantitative easing”, and American debt has gone critical as Democrats raised federal spending 50% over Obama’s first three years. To no good effect.

    And the problem is on the tax side. Glad you could stop by to explain that, Mr. Beutler, we have your number if we need you. Good day. Please send that Mr. Brooks in on your way out. Thanks so much.

  2. tabula rasa

    There are none so blind as those who will not see.  [A all-purpose comment that can be used each time we discuss anything related to Democrats, spending, and budgets].

  3. Ross C

    It would take me hours to figure out what they did to get these numbers but….

    Per the CBO (2010 is the latest year in the publication I looked at).

    Defense spending in 2001   306.1B$       2010 689.1B$

    Non Def Disc. in 2001         342.9B$       2010 660.1B$

    Convert the 2001 $ to 2010 $ using CPI-U and divide by the population of the US in 2001 and 2010 and you get the increase in per capita spending as follows:

    % Change Defense             +68%

    % Change Non Def. Disc.    +44%

    So this pretty straight forward calculation seems to disagree with the Senator’s claim that non-defence discretionary spending has remained flat.

    Defense has risen more, but NDD has gone up substantially in real terms.

    I would also direct the reader to Mr. Elmendorf’s recent presentation here.

    Particular attention to slides 8 & 14 where it shows the historical numbers as a percentage of GDP and you can see that spending on both have increased as a % of GDP.  Ironically, it is the Ryan plan and not the presidents budget which does the most to preserve discretionary spending (see slide 14).

  4. Ross C

    PS When I say Non defense discretionary spending has increased as a % of GDP, I mean from 2001.  I realize that the graph in slide 8 shows that 1981 was higher.  In general Defense has been much higher in the past as well.