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“Fiscal restraint”


Jon Chait points out that for a generation now GOP proposals for Doing Something About Big Government have followed a predictable not to say neurotic pattern:

Republicans keep running on platforms consisting of specified measures to increase the deficit and unspecified pledges to reduce it. Inevitably, they fail to reduce it. Then the party faithful decide the problem was leaders who lacked true conviction, and so the new leaders promise to mend their ways. Then they do the same thing all over again.

The current federal budget:

21% Medicare and Medicaid

20% Social Security

20% Military

6% Debt service

So two-thirds of the budget is made up of spending that can’t be altered significantly under anything like current political conditions. What both parties like to ignore in their superficially different but largely identical ways is that

(a) Wealth transfer payments to the elderly and America: World Police both remain very popular; and

(b) We have a extremely dysfunctional political system, in which among many other hoops that have to be jumped through you need a 3/5ths majority in an already wildly un-representational body to get any legislation passed (why anyone other than the politicians who benefit from dodging responsibility thinks this is a good thing remains difficult to understand).

So making any significant cuts in about 2/3rds of the budget is at present total political non-starter.

Which leaves everything else.

14% of the budget represents all federal programs and subsidies (other than Medicaid) for the benefit of poor people. It’s true there are some cost savings to be had by cutting this significantly. It’s also true there are some other costs that would be incurred by turning the US into Brazil.

7% is veterans benefits of all types and vested federal pensions.

3% is education

3% is transportation and infrastructure

2% is scientific and medical research

1% is non-military foreign aid of all types

4% is everything else the federal government does: running the courts and the administrative regulatory state, the park services, farm subsidies, grants to communist ballet groups etc etc.

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