Tag Archives: spending cuts

Let Me Be Clear

Here’s a letter I sent to Politico:

Editor, Politico:

Jonathan Allen’s November 28 article, “Mandatory budget cuts after supercommittee failure will trigger pain for some,” is misleading. A cut is when spending goes down. Federal spending will go up every year for at least the next ten years, even with the supercommittee’s failure to reach a bipartisan agreement.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, defense spending is projected to increase by 18 percent between 2013 and 2021. Discretionary spending is set to increase by 12 percent over the same period. These increases are lower than previous projections. But they are still increases. And an increase is not a cut. Not even in Washington.

Ryan Young

See also the chart below that the Mercatus Center’s Veronique De Rugy put together using CBO data. I can’t put it more plainly: there are no supercommittee-related budget cuts. Stop saying that there are.

Did Spending Cuts Cause the UK Riots?

Here’s a letter I recently sent to The New York Times:


 Richard Sennett and Saskia Sassen worry in their August 11 op-ed that government spending cuts may be causing the UK riots. They also hint at what that could imply for the U.S.

A problem with their argument is that government spending in the UK has gone up sharply over the last decade. Government spending there is currently about 45 percent of GDP. In 2000, it was only 34 percent. There were no riots then.

A similar story has played out in America. When President Clinton left office, federal spending was 18 percent of GDP. Now it is 24 percent.

If spending cuts cause riots, then we should have nothing to worry about. The fact that we do means something else must be behind the looting.

Washington, D.C. Aug. 11, 2011
The writer is a fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

They Aren’t Math Majors

Eleven people were arrested for staging a sit-in today inside the U.S. Capitol. They were protesting budget cuts. They must not have known that spending is set to increase every year for at least the next decade, even under the Boehner plan.

Take a look at this handy discretionary spending chart that Cato’s Chris Edwards put together:

The Spending Cut that Isn’t

Congress is debating a $2 trillion spending cut right now. Or at least that’s what they’re calling it. Ten years from now, even with the cut in place, spending is projected to be $1.8 trillion higher than it is today. This video explains why in one short minute:

Much Ado about Nothing: Budget Cut Edition

Democrats want the federal budget to be about  $3,730,000,000,000. Republicans want it to be about $3,630,000,000,000. As with many other issues, the difference between the two parties is less than three percent. Even so, it nearly led to a federal government shutdown.

The deal that the two parties recently struck to avoid a government shutdown meets somewhere in the between. It is advertised as cutting $38.5 billion of spending. But on closer inspection, it would actually cut $14.7 billion. That would cut total federal spending by 0.39 percent.

I have a hunch that even those small cuts may not actually happen. This blog post I wrote in 2005 explains why.

The rules of the game in Washington are severely stacked in favor of spending increases. Presidents Bush and Obama grew the federal government by about 100 percent in only a decade with little political pain. And it apparently takes the specter of a government shutdown to reduce spending by 0.39 percent.

If anyone is looking for a reason for fundamental institutional reform, that would be a big one.

Fuzzy Math on Foreign Aid Shows Why Spending Cuts Are Difficult

According to a new poll, the average American thinks that 25 percent of the federal budget is spent on foreign aid (or, more accurately, government-to-government transfers). They would like it cut to about 10 percent.

The actual figure is under 1 percent.

As Aid Watch’s Laura Freschi points out, that means most Americans want to increase government-to-government transfers ten-fold from current levels while also cutting them in half.

That most people think like this is a major reason why cutting the federal government’s $3.5 trillion budget is so difficult. The issues that people get worked up about tend to be small potatoes, in budgetary terms.

Besides transfer payments to other governments, earmarks are another lightning-rod issue. But even if earmarks were abolished entirely, that’s only about 2 percent of the budget. It would put the smallest of dents in spending.

Entitlement spending is the single largest driver of current and future deficits. That’s where the battle is. Aid spending and earmarks are not threatening to bankrupt the country. Social Security and Medicare are. And those programs are extremely popular. No politician with an eye on 2012 would be willing to cut them.

The government has made promises it can’t possibly keep. But most people refuse to believe that. So they don’t. As a guarding mechanism, they instead make grand assumptions about how much things like transfer payments to other governments and earmarks cost.

The Washington Version of Spending Cuts

Here’s a letter I sent to Politico:

Editor, Politico:

The title of your November 10 article, “Panel leaders propose Social Security cuts,” is inaccurate. A cut is when spending goes down. Social Security spending will go up if Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson’s recommendations are enacted. They would increase spending at a slower rate than under current policy. But it would still increase.

An increase is not a cut. Not even in Washington.

Ryan Young
Fellow in Regulatory Studies
Competitive Enterprise Institute