Today another budget fight looms. If Republicans and Democrats can’t agree on spending levels by Oct. 1, there could be a government shutdown. Followed, perhaps, by a national credit default.
That will be showdown number seven. To assess what the first six accomplished, The Washington Post tried to measure the government in four different dimensions: federal expenditures, federal workers, federal rules and federal real estate.
The first two were down, slightly. The third was way up. And in the fourth case, the government itself wasn’t sure what happened.
In every category there was evidence that — even as politicians made some headway in reducing the budget — they could not shake many of the old habits that made government big in the first place. They allowed duplication to live. They let “temporary” giveaways turn permanent. And they yielded to inertia, declining to revisit expensive old decisions.
The result was that Congress often passed up “smart cuts” in favor of dumb ones — taking broad hacks at the budget, instead of pruning away what was unnecessary.