The new budget put out by the Obama administration has been depicted by Republicans as a liberal wish list, filled with endless spending paid for by higher taxes.
It is nothing of the sort. It is a grim and depressing document that embraces the continued downsizing of federal discretionary spending to levels last seen under Eisenhower -- an austerity largely dictated by the president's fateful decision last year to let stand 80 percent of George W. Bush's huge tax cuts.
The best way to understand this budget is to go to the Summary Tables (click here for the PDF
) and take a close look at Table S-6: "Proposed Budget by Category as a Percent of GDP." Here you can read the story in statistical form of how the dream of an active, well-resourced federal government will expire over the coming decade.
This year, the Obama Administration proposes that the United States spend 3.2 percent of GDP on non-discretionary programs, which is everything government does other than pay out entitlements and fund national security agencies -- stuff like education, scientific research, infrastructure, food safety, job training, national parks, global development assistance, and environment protection.
Now, it should be noted that 3.2 percent is already a pretty low figure compared to the previous levels in the past 60 years. The government's discretionary funds were over 4 percent of GDP from the early 1970s through the mid-1980s, and hit over 5 percent during the Carter years. Under Clinton, that figure was consistently over 3.5 percent.
In other words, government is already operating on a bare-bones budget when it comes to doing a lot of the things that ordinary Americans want it do to, like help educate their kids, repair bridges, and fund research into dread diseases like cancer. Yet ten years from now, if the proposed Obama budget is fully implemented, we may look back on today's spending levels as a time of milk and honey. That's because non-defense discretionary spending is slated to decline by nearly a third as a percentage of GDP -- to 2.2 percent in 2023.
Every single area of discretionary government spending will be hit, and hit hard, by cuts that go on year after year.
And this budget is being called a liberal wish list?