It’s not the entitlements, it’s the discretionary spending

posted at 4:25 pm on July 8, 2011 by J.E. Dyer

I’m going to make a statement many will find startling, and it has to be established with a bluntness that renders it incomplete, if we are to understand the issue.

Entitlements are not the problem for the federal debt in 2011.

Now, calm down.  Entitlements are a debt problem.  But they are not the reason the federal debt has increased 35% under Obama.  I’ll say that again.  Entitlements are not the reason the federal debt has increased 35% under Obama.

Obama has not added so dramatically to our national debt by putting new money into Social Security and Medicare.  His multi-trillion-dollar deficit-fest has not pumped cash into Social Security and Medicare.  Do I need to put this in three or four more ways in order to get the point across?  Entitlements are a systemic, long-term debt problem, but they are not what has caused the national debt to spiral from 2009 to 2011.

It’s all the Obama spending on other things – not on the two user-contribution entitlement programs that America’s seniors now rely on – that has caused the debt to skyrocket.  Ed puts it clearly in his excellent post today on the historic trends of revenue and spending:

Had spending increased at a rate of inflation from 2001 forward, we would probably not been in deficit at all. Had it stayed at the rate of inflation from 2006 forward, we’d probably be looking at historically average deficits in terms of GDP.

Those historically average deficits were bad enough, but in the context of historic trends in GDP, they warranted a deliberate, gradual approach to bringing them down, as opposed to stark panic.  The legacy of four years of a Democratic Congress (2007-11), however, two of them under Barack Obama, is a discretionary spending spree that does induce panic (e.g., in David Brooks).

It’s the discretionary, non-military spending that has skyrocketed since 2006 (and especially since 2009), not the entitlement spending.  Discretionary spending is where we have to wield the current-budget axe.  I would never say the Defense Department should be immune to cuts, but we can’t take these cuts primarily out of defense.  They have to come out of subsidy programs and regulatory agencies.  For starters, they should come out of the new spending that dates only to 2009.

None of this means we shouldn’t address Medicare and Social Security as soon as possible.  We should, and the Ryan plan for Medicare looks pretty good to me.  But it is essential to keep our categories in order, and not let emotion and the Democrats’ incoherent political narrative pollute the debate.

Consider what has happened:  Obama came into office with a Democratic Congress, and in two years this combination increased discretionary spending so much that the whole republic has been thrown into a panic about meeting our debt obligations.

But are we talking now about reducing discretionary spending, the variable that has changed the most since January 2009?  No. We’re doing all our talking about everything else.  Defaulting on debt payments, anger and dread about entitlement programs, raising tax rates, increasing revenue – we’re talking about everything except what has actually caused the proximate problem we face in 2011.

We have to stop falling for this.  All the new spending added under Obama is only two years old.  No one who has received money from it is a desperate senior with no other source of support.  Huge portions of it have gone to keeping unionized government employees in their jobs, along with renewable-energy subsidies, a host of “green” (and other) development projects of dubious value, and increases in regulatory planning and administration.  Some of the spending might be worth following through on (e.g., road improvements), but otherwise, it is this spending that ought to be eliminated first.  The House Republicans have been right about that from day one: roll spending back to the level of 2008.

Instead, the president is reportedly approaching today’s budget conference with the posture that it’s time to make cuts to Social Security.  This would be the second major signal in three days that Democrats are perfectly willing to cut entitlement programs – not reform them, just take whacks out of them – rather than forego tax increases and their favorite forms of discretionary spending.

Obama’s priorities – and the other Democrats’ – are clear.  We could cut current discretionary spending, which has spiraled out of control since 2009, in order to meet our debt obligations after 2 August 2011.  But they’re not willing to do that.  They are proposing everything else instead: not just tax-rate increases, but cuts to Social Security and Medicare.  Merely cutting those programs – without a scheme for phased-in reform – would have a terrible impact on today’s seniors.  The point is not whether the Democrats would actually let such cuts take effect; the point is that their leaders are fully prepared to discuss them in public, rather than even consider rolling back Obama’s colossal increases in discretionary spending.

Don’t let this administration set up false alternatives, so that it can induce bad compromises with panic.  The Republicans in Congress are doing the right thing, if not always in the exact way you or I would choose.  Until Obama gets around to discussing the reduction of his monumental increases in discretionary spending, GOP legislators should hold the line.

J.E. Dyer’s articles have appeared at The Green Room, Commentary’s “contentions,Patheos, The Weekly Standard online, and her own blog, The Optimistic Conservative.

This post was promoted from GreenRoom to HotAir.com.
To see the comments on the original post, look here.

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Comments

Wait a second, are you telling me that spending $10 million on a scheme to frame American gun owners as a bunch of irresponsible murderers-in-waiting is part of the fiscal problem?

Come on. Cooooommmmmmee OOOOoooonnnnnnnnnneee.

Bishop on July 8, 2011 at 4:28 PM

I agree.

Lawrence on July 8, 2011 at 4:29 PM

Right on. This is also why Democrats jump immediately to ‘cutting social security/medicare’. They know that cutting discretionary spending would be very possible politically (it’s harder to defend the discretionary spending because it easy to show how wasteful and unnecessary it is) and so they stay away from it and prefer to talk about the tougher-to-cut entitlements in an attempt to stop any cuts from occurring.

gwelf on July 8, 2011 at 4:29 PM

Wait a second, are you telling me that spending $10 million on a scheme to frame American gun owners as a bunch of irresponsible murderers-in-waiting is part of the fiscal problem?

Come on. Cooooommmmmmee OOOOoooonnnnnnnnnneee.

Bishop on July 8, 2011 at 4:28 PM

Bbbuut if we cut discretionary spending then old people will need to eat dog food!!!!!eleventy!11!!!!11

- libtard

gwelf on July 8, 2011 at 4:31 PM

I second this.

faraway on July 8, 2011 at 4:31 PM

J.E., you are dead on.

I wrote about this yesterday (“So this is the deal: Obama prepared to slash Social Security, Medicare, Defense–in fact, anything except the bloated public sector unions“).

As always with Obama, it’s about the unions.

The bloated government bureaucracies are the Democrat Party and vice versa. One can’t exist without the other.

If McConnell and Boehner blow their advantage, they need to be replaced ASAP.

Their starting position — non-negotiable — should be the Cut, Cap, Balance Pledge.

Period.

No secret, back-room deals.

This is Obama and the 111th Congress’ fault. They didn’t pass a budget. They spent like drunken liberals. And they are destroying the full faith and credit of the United States Treasury.

If Boehner and McConnell are too wedded to their status on the Beltway cocktail circuit — rather than as representatives of a pissed-off electorate — there will be hell to pay.

directorblue on July 8, 2011 at 4:31 PM

This is the socialist (I refuse to say democrat any more) jugular. We need to go for it. Period.

HomeoftheBrave on July 8, 2011 at 4:32 PM

Um, isn’t the current deficit larger than total discretionary spending? Who has the numbers?

Count to 10 on July 8, 2011 at 4:38 PM

Well-done! Discretionary spending=slush fund for Democrats.

Buy Danish on July 8, 2011 at 4:38 PM

Finally!! Thank you J.E.!!! It is like we had the failed Stimulus bill each year since 2009, because it became the baseline. So instead of emergency one time funding to help the economy, it is now baked into the cake. Slash it.

txmomof6 on July 8, 2011 at 4:41 PM

It sure as hell will be entitlements soon.

Total federal liabilities went up $5.3 trillion last year.

- $1.5T deficit
- $2.9T SS/Medicare
- $0.9 misc (mostly federal/military pensions)

Chuck Schick on July 8, 2011 at 4:44 PM

In 2010 non-defense discretionary spending was under $700 Billion. Deficit was about $1.3 trillion. Just saying.

RW Wacko on July 8, 2011 at 4:48 PM

Ordinance delivered on target J.E.

It’s is the breathtaking increase in the discretionary baseline budgets that has swollen the yearly deficits under Obama.

And while no major debt reductions in the long-term can occur without facing the need to reform entitlements, the first big bit out of the apple has to come from rescinding these same dramatic baseline increases.

And definitely not by having the GOP cave on defense spending, as some trial balloons floated have suggested, by an additional 600 to 700 trillion over the next 10 years. I mean, it was less than 2 weeks ago that Gates stated he had already cut DoD spending to the bone! And as China is starting to realize some of it’s near-peer military expansion, in large part paid for by our monthly trade imbalance, it might be the worst of times to be entertaining such folly…

My Regards

RocketmanBob on July 8, 2011 at 4:48 PM

OT: stats.wordpress.com keeps hanging up on the main page – your stats may be a little short today

faraway on July 8, 2011 at 4:49 PM

Indeed. The talk of entitlements is a distraction from the huge leap in frivolous spending. Our spineless leaders in the Congress need to keep their eye on the ball and not the hocus pocus. Rush really reamed them on this today.

JE, whoever the conservative that wins in 2012 needs to bring you and Dr Zero onboard their admin.

AH_C on July 8, 2011 at 4:55 PM

Our Federal (and most likely state) government leaks money all over the place. These spending pie charts the pols and pundits show us are bogus.

You don’t have to buy a Ferrari to go broke, you can just eat out every day and buy BS you don’t need in dollar stores.

Dr. ZhivBlago on July 8, 2011 at 4:55 PM

Total federal liabilities went up $5.3 trillion last year.

- $1.5T deficit
- $2.9T SS/Medicare
- $0.9 misc (mostly federal/military pensions)

Chuck Schick on July 8, 2011 at 4:44 PM

In 2010 non-defense discretionary spending was under $700 Billion. Deficit was about $1.3 trillion. Just saying.

RW Wacko on July 8, 2011 at 4:48 PM

Yep, but those are long term issues and the programs need to be reformed not just cut.

Vince on July 8, 2011 at 4:57 PM

It’s everything. A giant bowl of financial atrocity cooked up and force-fed to a mostly unwilling public, well, barely mostly.

Bishop on July 8, 2011 at 4:59 PM

Increase in discretionary spending has been obscene given the “real” people are tightening their purse strings. But it’s gone up about $100 billion since Obama took office. Entitlements have increased 50% more over that time, and they are projected to be $1 TRILLION more per year in 10 years without reform or cuts. No way in hell discretionary spending matches that. And it ain’t gonna be easy to cut, either. Pelosi just said cust SS, Medicare and Medicaid are off the table.

But yeah, the whole lot of expenses should have a hacksaw taken to them.

RW Wacko on July 8, 2011 at 5:07 PM

I agree.

It should be interesting to see how the parties screw this thing up…again.

PattyJ on July 8, 2011 at 5:20 PM

“You may put ‘em on the list.
You may put ‘em on the list.
And they’ll none of them be missed.
They’ll none of them be missed.”

Ko-Ko The Lord High Executioner Mikado

So many parallels.

Caststeel on July 8, 2011 at 5:21 PM

It would be nice to see the comparison of current budgets to 2008 or 2009 if possible (since no budget was passed). I have wondered why not going back to the 2008 or 2009 budget with small cost of living increase would solve our current deficit problems.

bigtallgoo on July 8, 2011 at 5:26 PM

Yep, but those are long term issues and the programs need to be reformed not just cut.

Vince on July 8, 2011 at 4:57 PM

They are long term issues, but they are already adding to the deficit- they were supposed to be financed fully through payroll taxes. I can’t think of any substantial reforms that won’t be cuts except raising ages- which are essentially cuts.

Chuck Schick on July 8, 2011 at 5:27 PM

Great essay. I saw the headline photo and for a moment thought Boehner had echoed this theme. Silly me.

rrpjr on July 8, 2011 at 5:40 PM

Sorry, it is both.

LegendHasIt on July 8, 2011 at 5:49 PM

Maybe we need a windfall profit taxs on Public unions?

Don L on July 8, 2011 at 5:57 PM

Instead, the president is reportedly approaching today’s budget conference with the posture that it’s time to make cuts to Social Security. This would be the second major signal in three days that Democrats are perfectly willing to cut entitlement programs – not reform them, just take whacks out of them – rather than forego tax increases and their favorite forms of discretionary spending.

I suspect the Dem’s are simply crafting the argument that if entitlement cuts are on the table then tax increses must also be. Obviously, they want to control the discussion in order to put the Republicans on defense.

Of course Obama has added almost $900 Billion annually in new spending. But nobody in the MSM is asking for half that back as his part in honest budget negotiations. They want the Rich to pay so they’re not interested in educating the public on areas of the budget that can be cut. Deficits are really just opportunities to redistribute wealth, the demand portion (entitlements) already making that giant sucking sound.

shuzilla on July 8, 2011 at 5:57 PM

I look at these GOP “negotiators” in the same way a long-abused spouse looks at her alcoholic husband -nice speech but it mean nothing, I’ve heard it too many times before -call me Mr. GOP when you’re finally sober from that RINO wino!

Don L on July 8, 2011 at 6:01 PM

Yes, and yes. This is not ‘either/or’, it’s ‘all of the above’.

Do not go down a path that has folks suddenly not worried about entitlements that *are* a damn problem, damnit. How long until Medicare and SS are out of money? Not freaking long from now.

They *must* be part of any serious discussion about how to fix this mess.

Midas on July 8, 2011 at 6:03 PM

FLASHBACK 1996: Farrakhan sold the Nation of Islam to Kaddafi for $1M during the Bubbah Administration.

NOI = Cheap Kaddafi Whores

Terp Mole on July 8, 2011 at 6:04 PM

BTW, Obama is doing what I suggested the Republicans should be doing, which is to suggest an almost unthinkable concession in order to provoke demand for concessions from the other side.

Here, Obama says we’ll cut entitlements, but you Republicans better come along with some respectable tax increases. The MSM applauds.

Republicans should be offering jaw-dropping tax increases, such that the Democrats are completely caught off-guard, in exchange for a ballanced budget/no raised debt ceiling agreement.

That would force the Democrats into proposing all of the spending cuts, which they are usually happy to let Republicans put forth, AND propose additional, unpopular tax cuts on top of the Republican’s painful proposal when their cuts don’t go deep enough.

shuzilla on July 8, 2011 at 6:08 PM

Entitlements ARE discretionary spending, in case this has been missed.

Mandatory is what is put into the Constitution.

Notice that paying of debt is mentioned in the Constitution, it is not discretionary.

Everything else is discretionary.

ajacksonian on July 8, 2011 at 6:24 PM

Good grief! This article can’t be serious! Entitlements are not this years budget problem? Earth to Dyer. Tax revenue is by it’s very nature fungible. That is, a USD collected from taxpayers cannot be tracked to a specific usage. That means that any coherent plan to address the debt/deficit problem – now or in 2040 – MUST, repeat, MUST address the major expenditure items. If every single USD of discretionary budget expenditures AND national defense expenditures were ZEROed out tomorrow, the budget would NOT be balanced. Let’s look at this another way, if you examine the Bureau of Economic Analysis numbers that they call personal current transfer payments – what others call “entitlements” – sums to approximately $2.4 trillion? Want to guess how much TOTAL tax revenue the Imperial Federal Government collects each year. You guessed it, approximately $2.4 trillion. Think about that for a moment. Every USD of real tax revenue – not funded by the issuance of debt – is now “used” to “help the less fortunate!” From each according to ability, to each according to his needs. We’re there! Welcome to the USSA!

boqueronman on July 8, 2011 at 6:31 PM

CONGRESS. SPENDS. THE. MONEY.

Spending skyrocketed when the Dems took over Congress.

Note that I did not say Republicans do not spend money, the Democrats are just an order of magnitude worse.

And I don’t say the President has no effect or can’t hurt, obviously Obama wants to spend us into a collapse, but it’s still Congress that spends the money.

For some reason people don’t care, they want the President to be the only one to take the blame, but as much of a destructive influence as this one is, it just ain’t so.

Merovign on July 8, 2011 at 7:25 PM

THANK YOU! Yes, entitlement spending also needs reform, but it causes cognitive dissonance to voters when they hear our side say, “Obama flushed almost a trillion dollars down the commode in wasteful spending, therefore we need to cut Social Security and Medicare.” Let’s first starve the beast (Congress, appropriators, regulators, bureaucrats) and then continue with structural fixes. Further, we will NEVER get the electorate to buy in to entitlement reform so long as we still fund cowboy poetry slams.

grgeil on July 8, 2011 at 7:42 PM

Cut CRAP and Balance.

Dandapani on July 9, 2011 at 8:22 AM

The “big deal” coming could be political suicide for GOP leaders who still don’t understand what is happening. For Boehner to return to Ohio known as Obama’s Bitch could send him back to sweeping his daddy’s tavern.

volsense on July 9, 2011 at 11:42 AM

Cut CRAP and Balance.

Dandapani on July 9, 2011 at 8:22 AM

Damn you gotta like it.

TomLawler on July 9, 2011 at 12:44 PM

Bring the discretionary budget spending down to 2006 levels plus rate of inflation and the budget mess will be primarily solved. There is no reason for repubs to support the out of control democrap budgets of their four years of spendthriftness. We weren’t heartless and Calcutta like in the 2006 spending, we didn’t have people out on the street, so this is the only rational thing to do.
With respect to 2 trillion in cuts over ten years, in exchange for raising the debt ceiling, this is insane. That takes only 200 billion out of next year’s proposed budget deficit of 1.5 trillion dollars. So for 200 billion, we’d have to increase the debt limit by more than 1.3 trillion dollars. Indeed, the 2 trillion “cut” masks the fact that during the same period the national debt would still increase by 7-8 TRILLION dollars, to nearly 22 TRILLION dollars. Also, at that point, 2022, the big bulge in baby boomer retirements will happen exponentially increasing pressure on the budget for retirement payments.

eaglewingz08 on July 10, 2011 at 12:45 PM