“Out-Of-Control Spending” Isn’t One Of Our Many Problems

Jonathan Chait, writing for New York Magazine, commented on a bizarre story that appeared in Sunday’s Washington Post. Chait said the story (“After six budget showdowns, big government is mostly unchanged“) was,

one of the weirdest, and most weirdly biased, news articles I’ve ever read in my life. 

The writer of the Post story is David Fahrenthold, who, as the paper tells us, “covers Congress for the Washington Post.” That would lead one to believe that Fahrenthold is a genuine news reporter, not a columnist or an editorial writer.

But as Chait points out, it is hard to tell that the Post story was written by an objective journalist, since it seems to push a Tea Party message that “government is not shrinking” and it is “really, really big.” I strongly urge you to read Chait’s piece, but I will post here a couple of graphs he used (similar to others I have used on this blog) to demonstrate why government is in fact getting smaller and why it is not as big as you might think:

This graph represents the federal workforce as a percentage of U.S. population. It speaks for itself. No one can seriously argue that, in terms of the size of the federal workforce, that government is getting bigger.

This second graph comes from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:

U.S. Government Spends Less than Most Other Developed Countries

The article from the CBPP addresses the misleading meme, spread by right-wing government-shrinking radicals, that “government spending in the United States is 41 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).” As with all statistics, a little context is in order, which the CBPP article provides. To summarize slightly:

♦ That 41 percent number comes from the Organisation for Cooperation and Development (OECD) and which reflects “spending by all levels of government,” federal, state and local, with local governments spending about one-third of the total.

♦ The OECD uses a system of measurement developed for the United Nations, which significantly differs from measurements made by the federal government via the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis (that explains the difference between the dark blue and light blue lines on the graph). The United Nations’ measurement includes, for instance, “the entire cost of running the public-university system, not just what legislators appropriate to supplement students’ tuition payments.”

♦ The year the 41 percent figure is derived (2011) “exaggerates the situation”:

Automatic increases in safety-net programs like unemployment insurance andfood stamps, plus recovery measures that Congress enacted, pushed up the numerator (spending), even as a slumping economy squeezed the denominator (GDP).  This happened in other countries, too.

♦ The CPBB notes that government spending is decreasing and that “the Congressional Budget Office projects that federal spending will continue to decline through mid-decade as a percent of GDP.”

♦ Finally, the CPBB makes two more important points that anyone interested in this stuff should know:

First, this doesn’t mean that government controls about 40 percent of the U.S. economy.  The bulk of government spending goes for payments to individuals through transfer programs such as Social Security, and most of the goods and services that people buy with these payments are privately produced.

Second, government spending in the United States — by the OECD’s broad measure—remains about 2 ½ percent of GDP below the OECD average, and about 8 percent below the average level among countries that have adopted the euro.  While the United States faces plenty of long-run fiscal challenges, out-of-control spending today isn’t one of them.

Fixing The National Debt, One Meal At A Time

Tuesday’s Joplin Globe editorial noted the effect sequestration, which has become reality at last, is having on “our area senior centers,” as they try to “meet the demands of a growing homebound meals program” :

Now, federal cuts that went into effect on Friday could result in an 8.5 percent reduction in funding for the Area Agency on Aging. Stan Heater, the executive director for our agency, said that could reduce the annual number of meals served by about 12,000.

The Globe didn’t publish this editorial, however, to criticize sequestration, President Obama, or, God forbid, the real cause of the sequestration mess, the Republican Party. Nope. The paper was merely urging folks to donate to the local senior centers to help offset the cuts.

Fine. If local folks want to do that, good for them. The Area Agency on Aging, a 501 (c)(3) organization, does good work. But the Joplin Globe at least should explain to folks who happen to read this editorial why it is that 12,000 fewer meals may not be served. Perhaps the paper should also tell us if it endorses the sequester, the result of austerity-drunk conservatives holding President Obama and the nation’s credit rating hostage in 2011.

In its endorsement of “severely conservative” Mitt Romney last year, the Joplin Globe also endorsed austerity-drunk conservatism. The paper explained to us that we should be very worried about the national debt and “unchecked government spending,” which it called “the issue that most threatens our nation’s future well-being.”

Perhaps it is. And perhaps it is so serious that it is worth reducing funding to organizations that serve meals to old folks. What’s missing a meal or two when we have all that debt to worry about?

In the mean time, we have this:

House Republicans are proposing this week to restore upward of $7 billion to operations and maintenance accounts for the four military services hit hard by the automatic cuts that went into effect Friday night.

I just wonder how many meals organizations like the Area Agency on Aging could serve to seniors with that $7 billion?

Yeah, I just wonder.


If Obama Is A Big-Government Socialist, What’s That Make Ronald Reagan?

I saw this interesting graphic on MSNBC (adapted from a Talking Points Memo piece), which should, but won’t, shut up all the talk about the socialist in the White’s House.

In terms of net change in government spending, Obama isn’t in the same league with either Bush or Ronaldus Magnus:

When Will Democrats Learn?

Sam Stein reported this today:

There is increasing concern among Democratic officials both on and off the Hill that Republicans will draw out negotiations over raising the nation’s debt ceiling in an effort to institute one of several blunter deficit-reduction measures.

In recent days, chatter among operatives and Hill aides has centered on one specific addition the GOP is pushing in exchange for signing off on a debt limit increase. A cap on overall government spending — bringing it to 20.6 percent of GDP over the course of ten years — has been sharply criticized as too crude and potentially damaging for a fragile economy.

Stein says that this so-called “CAP Act” has bipartisan support in both the House and Senate. Missouri’s own Claire McCaskill is a co-sponsor in the Senate, and Stein mentioned that McCaskill’s office did not indicate whether the CAP Act should be attached to any deficit ceiling vote.

It should not be.

Here’s my point: Whether the spending cap idea is good or bad, it’s preposterous that Democrats should negotiate over the idea while Republicans are holding hostage a raise in the debt ceiling next month. 

Something so serious should not be negotiated at the point of a gun. But Republicans have achieved so much by holding a gun to the heads of ordinary Americans, they naturally want to continue with that strategy.

But this time they would be holding a gun to the heads of Wall Street banksters and Democrats need to understand that Republicans will not pull the trigger because of that.  Therefore they should not make any kind of deal over the debt ceiling that would lock in a cap on government spending or anything else of consequence.  Those kinds of ideas belong in the 2012 budget debate, not in a debate about the full faith and credit of our federal government.

The truth is that no matter what teapartiers in the House demand, Boehner, if he wants to act responsibly, needs only a handful of Republicans to pass an increase in the debt ceiling.  There are plenty of Democrats in the House to get a relatively clean bill passed.

If Boehner cannot get a handful of Republicans, then America should know that Republicans are willing to risk a financial calamity in service to their extremist ideology.

In the Senate, it’s fairly obvious now that no Republican senator is willing to filibuster the debt ceiling bill, therefore only 50 votes are needed to pass a relatively clean one. 

Given these realities, Democrats need to stiffen their spine and tell Republicans that they will not be rolled again.  Sending signals like those Sam Stein reported is not a good strategy.

When will they ever learn?

It’s As Obvious As A Hitler Mustache At A Tea Bagger’s Placard Painting Party

Naturally, some folks don’t want to hear that much of the Tea Party “movement” is not what it purports to be.  I understand that. Committed to the issues that allegedly animate the organizers, they don’t want to believe that the core of the movement is really about fear, fear of a strange black man from Kenya Hawaii, who now leads our country.  

Someone by the name of Captain Obvious, whom I have now officially busted to Lieutenant Oblivious, complained about my analysis of the Winston Group findings on the composition and motivation of the Teapartiers. He wrote,

I have never seen such a worthless string of simplistic speculation and voluminous bloviation based upon nothing more than a personal assumption of mala-fides.

At first I thought he was commenting on the Rush Limbaugh Show, but then he clarified:

Even if in bizarro world Democrats were noble saviours out to repel the Republican scourge, it isn’t sufficient for you that tea partiers could just be “wrong.” No, using your psychic “intention detector” you KNOW it’s all racism.

No, Lieutenant, it’s not all racism.  And, of course, no one has said such a thing.  We all understand that many people, in both parties, are concerned about the deficit and the national debt.  It’s just that most people don’t dust off their 18th-century Sunday best and hustle down to the town square and make fools of themselves degrading our democratically-elected leader, calling him silly names while holding grammatically-challenged signs.

So,while acknowledging that there is much public angst about our long-term fiscal health, some of us wonder just what the Tea Party movement is really about, since most of the worried public does not identify itself with it.  The reason we wonder is because of the dissonance between the alleged concerns of the movement and its rather selective timing of the expression, as well as the target,  of those concerns.

As fellow blogger Juan Don pointed out in a comment:

Squawking about President Obama’s reckless spending is much more fun when you’re not attached to the previous administration’s strange homage to “fiscal conservatism”. Of course, it’s purely coincidental that deficit hawks flex their feathery outrage only after their party is out of power.

And as Jim Stone, another blogger pointed out in his comment:

Leading up to the present, Democrats (every President) have IMPROVED our situation regarding this issue. Eisenhower’s administration is the ONLY Republican administration which reduced the debt.

Here are a couple of simple charts to illustrate Juan’s and Jim’s point (click on for a better view):


So, given the fact there is objective, historical evidence that under Republican governance the things that allegedly bother Teapartiers so much—worries about the size of government, deficit spending, mounting debt—have grown much worse under Republican control, we have a right to ask about the Teapartiers, Why? Why now? and, Why are they so angry at President Obama?

Why, beginning shortly after Obama was inaugurated (but with roots going back to before the election), did a group of almost exclusively white folks decide to get together with misspelled placards, misplaced rhetoric, disingenuous and anachronistic use of the Founder’s words—not to mention the caricatures of Obama that had racist overtones—and decide to start a “movement” whose alleged concerns were the size of government, its spending increases, and its debt, when Republicans have been the demonstrable cause of those concerns for years?

The truth is that at the core of the Tea Party movement is a group of disgruntled and fearful white conservatives and Republican sympathizers, whose fears are not as much about the deficit, debt, or the size of government as much as they are about Barack Hussein Obama, the “exotic” black man, who some on the right think is the anti-Christ, who many on the right think is a Muslim, and who most on the right think is a socialist—if not a Communist bent on destroying America.

That fact is as obvious as a Hitler mustache at a teabagger’s placard painting party.

Tea Party Movement Is Largely People Who Feel Threatened By Our Pigmented President

The Winston Group, whose founder, David Winston, is a former fellow of the Heritage Foundation and who also worked for Newt Gingrich, has released a new report” that purports to examine the composition and motivation of the Tea Party movement. 

Using three national surveys of 1000 registered voters (over three months), the Winston Group “captured a subgroup of respondents identifying themselves as part of the ‘Tea Party’ movement.”

It turns out that the “subgroup” of people who self-identified as Teapartiers amounted to 511 folks, a mere 17% of the total.  

As for the findings: Surprise! Teapartiers tend to be older, conservative, and Republican.  Wow!  I couldn’t have guessed that.

Oh, by the way, the study also found, 

…almost three out of four Tea Party members anticipate that they will vote for a Republican candidate for Congress.

I’m shocked!  75% will vote for a Republican? What a stunning finding!  Next we will find out that Teapartiers are mostly white!

The most telling question asked in the survey was what Teapartiers think of Barack Obama. The results will probably shock you, but, guess what? Teabaggers don’t like him

Obama Job Approval      Tea Party (Feb 2010)   Overall (Feb 2010)Approve                                             17                                   49

Disapprove                                       81                                   44

So, what we have in the Tea Party movement, to no one’s real surprise, is essentially a “We Hate Obama” movement. 

Sure, the study makes a valiant effort to demonstrate that the movement is all about the “economy and jobs” and the “national deficit and spending,” and, no doubt, there are honest Teapartiers who have a genuine concern over our economic future.

But the truth is that at the core of the Tea Party movement is a group of older, white, conservative Republicans who feel culturally threatened by our pigmented president.

How else do you explain the public displays of handwringing and fretting over fiscal issues and the simultaneous admission that in the upcoming election Teapartiers are going to vote for Republicans? 

Republicans!—the same party that has brought us to our fiscal knees in terms of the national debt and nearly wrecked the entire economy when they were last in power.

Look. Suppose you asked me what my biggest fear was, and I answered: “I am afraid my son will get involved in drugs.”  Fine, you say. That is a legitimate concern these days. 

But then you ask me what I’m going to do to help ensure he won’t get involved in drugs in the future, and I say: “I’m going to encourage him to befriend the neighborhood drug dealer.”  You then have a legitimate right to question whether my concerns about his involvement in drugs is legitimate.

Such is the state of the Tea Party movement in these challenging times. The nasty placards, the spitting, the hurling of epithets—regular components of Tea Party gatherings—may actually say more about the movement than the Winston Group’s survey could ever say.

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