June 22, 2003
'Gutting' The Budget

In a long and tedious thread on Daily Pundit, Tony Foresta claims that Republicans support

. . . bankrupting the nation with the largest government expenditures in the history of America, while gutting every support system and program benefiting the people to promote the myopic and elitist Pax Americana agenda of the Bush oligarchy.

When asked to explain, he expanded on this claim, again using the verb 'gut':

Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, Education, Welfare, aid to States, infrastructure investment, environmental programs and clean-up's, and the Arts are all gutted by Bush's starvation of the government in favor of funneling obscene fortunes into the off sheet accounts of a few rightwingideologues in the Bush oligarchy.

That seems to cover just about all non-defense spending, and he did write "every" in the first quotation.

Can it be true that all these are being "gutted" even as total spending increases? First we have to come up with a handy rule-of-thumb definition of the verb, which is not exactly precise. Just how much do you have to cut something to 'gut' it? I think we can agree that an increase that fails to keep up with inflation doesn't come close to 'gutting' something, at least when inflation is near zero, as it has been for several years. Even a 5% or 10% cut in real dollars, though unpleasant, can hardly be called 'gutting'. How about 25%? It's been a long time since I went fishing, but that seems a good estimate of the difference in weight between a gutted fish and a live one. It's also very close to the difference between my after-tax income three months ago and my unemployment checks since then, and I'm getting along OK. I could argue that nothing under 50% would really be gutting, but let's not be greedy here.

A look at the budget numbers on the OMB site (PDF file) shows that a 25% decrease in non-defense spending would allow us to double defense spending and still turn a large deficit into an even larger surplus. Of course, none of this has happened, or is going to happen.

Let's look at the 2003 numbers in Table S-2. The first interesting thing to note is that defense spending (368 billion) is only 17.3% of total expenditures (2,128 billion), in fact less than the sum of Medicare and Medicaid (231 + 159 = 390 billion) and much less than Social Security (472 billion).* Even after a substantial 6% increase for 2004, defense spending (390 billion) is still less than either Social Security (491) or Medicare/Medicaid (241+170=411).

Non-defense spending for 2003 totals 1,660 billion (2,128 - 368). If it were to be 'gutted' and decrease by 25%, it would go to 1,245 billion, a difference of 415 billion. Expected revenues for 2004 are listed as 2,189 billion. If we were to double defense spending for 2004 (376 x 2 = 752 billion) and add that to the 'gutted' non-defense spending (1245 billion) we would get total 2004 outlays of 1,997 billion, for a budget surplus of 192 billion. Sounds good to me, but it's not going to happen.

Since, as Democrats like to point out, the deficit doesn't seem to be going away, what's going on? Are we tripling the defense budget? Not hardly. As already noted, the increase from 2003 to 2004 is 6%, which is a lot more than the inflation rate, but far far less than doubling, much less tripling.

And non-defense spending is not decreasing at all. Again, the budget figures show an increase of 39 billion, just over 2.3% -- not much, but quite a bit more than the inflation rate. It may not be going up as fast as most Democrats and quite a few 'Republicans' would like, but it is still going up. My income has never gone up as fast as I would like, but other than a few periods of unemployment it's never been 'gutted' either.

Of course, some may wish to argue that the OMB numbers are inaccurate, especially for the future, and there may be some defense-related things listed outside the main defense category. However, the difference between my quick-and-dirty look at the official OMB numbers and anything that could plausibly be called 'gutting' the non-defense budget are so huge that I don't think this is going to help much. At worst, it would mean that cutting non-defense spending by 25% would allow for only an 80% or 90% increase in defense spending and a 100 billion surplus, which is a long long way from what Foresta has claimed. Any way you slice it, non-defense spending is not being gutted. If it were, we wouldn't have a deficit.

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*Lefties like to snicker about polls showing high numbers of Americans believing things that are not true about Iraq or the rest of the world. Has anyone asked a cross-section of voters what percentage of their taxes they think goes to the Pentagon? I suspect the average guess would be a lot more than 17.3%.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at June 22, 2003 11:58 AM

Indeed Weevil, most Americans grossly exaggerate the percentage of federal spending going to defense. But few are as far off the facts as even Foresta.

Posted by: Robin Roberts on June 22, 2003 09:47 PM

Thanks, Doctor, I don't have enough of a masochistic streak to read Foresta after his 3rd or 4th post on that thread, which, by the way, was about Wesley Clark (but you wouldn't know it from reading Foresta's run-on paragraph-laden foolishness).

Posted by: Dan Thariz on June 22, 2003 10:27 PM

Foresta is why I no longer read Daily Pundit. There's a lot good there, but it gets buried under the weight of his lies, venom, and brainless loon-speak.

Posted by: Robert Crawford on June 23, 2003 09:36 AM

I think your mistake was mistaking Foresta for someone who cares about or will allow his opinions to be affected by the facts. On the rare occasion when a facton succeeds in overcoming the fact-repulsive force around Foresta, that facton transmutes the subject into a new one.

Posted by: David Perron on June 24, 2003 11:29 AM

You've actually left out an even bigger counter-argument (though I must concur with David that "Tony" wouldn't care either way). The 2002 budget that you used as your baseline was a ehole lot more than 2 or 6% higher than 2001. Bush allowed spending to rise 22% in two years (about 440 billion). Only Carter ever boosted spending more in a comparable time period. If we're "gutting" federal spending then we're doing it the way of the "Gluttony" murder in Seven.

Posted by: Dodd on June 30, 2003 02:18 PM