To continue this thought experiment, if this inflation- and population-adjusted spending path from 2001 continued to 2022, spending in 2022 would be only $3.61 trillion, compared with the $5.51 trillion the current baseline predicts. This spending path would have seen budget deficits top out at a little less than $400 billion in 2009 and then return to surplus by 2014.

In fact, even starting from today’s spending levels, if future spending grew at inflation plus population, it would be only $4.8 trillion in 2022. The budget deficit in that year would be $199 billion, with deficits decreasing each year.

Compare this to President Obama’s proposed fiscal-cliff deal, which would increase spending to $5.5 trillion in 2022, the same as the current baseline. That’s right: The president’s proposal does not reduce spending at all. There are no net cuts, not even in the Washington sense of reductions from the baseline. The few programmatic cuts he recommends, most of which lack specifics, are offset by other spending increases. All that spending means that, if the president gets every bit of the $1.6 trillion in new taxes he has asked for, we would still add $6 trillion to the national debt over the next ten years, and run a $661 billion deficit in 2022. Moreover, since there are so few specifics in the president’s proposal, these estimates likely underestimate the amount of spending, debt, and deficits it would incur.