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Budget context

A good, well, tweet from Chris Hayes:

Anyone notice that the pres signed a $680 BILLION defense approp bill in the midst of our debates about $90b a yr for hc?

That $680 billion, incidentally, doesn't count the cost of the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan.

You could say a lot about this juxtaposition, but among other things, it's a reminder that there's real rhetorical power in the time frame that gets chosen for a given policy. The stimulus, for instance, was explained as a two-year cost, so it was $800 billion, rather than $400 billion a year. Health-care reform is being sold as a 10-year cost, so it's $900 billion, rather than $90 billion a year. The defense appropriation is explained in terms of single-year cost, so it's $680 billion, as opposed to the $10 trillion or so that it would cost if you took into account expected growth.

There are reasons for all this. The stimulus was going to be spent over two years. Health-care reform is being balanced in the 10-year budget window. The defense bill is a single-year appropriation. Washington's professional wonk set knows all that. But most people just hear the numbers, and they don't necessarily know that the "trillion dollar health-care bill" the GOP keeps talking about will actually cost $90 billion a year, and it will cut the deficit. Standardizing all costs to an annual cost would do a lot to help people figure this out. And explaining things in terms of the federal budget -- how much is $90 billion as a percent of what we'll spend this year? How about $680 billion? -- would do a lot to help people put it all in context.

By Ezra Klein  |  November 2, 2009; 5:27 PM ET
Categories:  Budget  
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Comments

To add another number, the emergency appropriation requested this past spring for Afghanistan and Iraq totaled $130 billion, and that's probably a lower bound of the real cost.

Good thing Congress and the public believe that the Defense budget is untouchable. Killing the F-22 was an encouraging sign, but I still have to think that any attempts to actually cut (or even hold steady) defense spending will get the Dems branded as weak on security.

Posted by: etdean1 | November 2, 2009 5:41 PM | Report abuse

Defense spending is the elephant in the room. It takes up a phenomenal percentage of the budget (not even counting the wars), and for those truly serious about fiscal responsibility, it has to be high on the list of things that need to be drastically cut back. Yet, whenever I read about reducing the deficit, its as if defense spending doesn't exist.

Its like telling an overweight person to cut soda out of their diet while ignoring the fact that they're still ordering a Big Mac with large fries for every lunch and dinner.

Of course, the "teabaggers" love their F-22's more than they actually care about the deficit, and the Democrats are too scared to do anything that makes them look weak on defense, so, in the meantime, we'll just continue recklessly spending insane amount of money for military items that serve no purpose given the state of modern military engagements.

Posted by: nylund | November 2, 2009 6:04 PM | Report abuse

If you hadn't just written this, Ezra, I would not have known about it. Seriously. No news stories, no editorials came across this political junkie's attention until you posted this. So thanks for that depressing insight :)

Back to worrying about how to make the deficit-neutral health care bill just a leeeeetle more deficit-neutral. President Snowe's orders, y'know.

Keep kickin' that football, Charlie Brown.

Posted by: nomlicious | November 2, 2009 6:16 PM | Report abuse

Um, that $680B does in fact include the costs of Iraq and Afghanistan. It was $550B for DoD, and $130B for the wars. http://www.marketwatch.com/story/obama-to-sign-pentagons-680-billion-2010-budget-2009-10-27

We're used to mentioning that caveat because Bush kept them separate to obscure the costs. Good on Obama for including the total number to describe our defense spending.

Posted by: fbacon2 | November 2, 2009 6:50 PM | Report abuse

You non-budget people just don't get it. Health care is a recurring program with ever increasing costs. Most importantly, it is a program that the American people get dependent on and have an expectation that it will continue. It is almost impossible to cut or eliminate a health care program and it will become a permenant part of the budget.

As for defense spending, it is actually much easier to stop war spending. End the war. And the stimulus was by definition a non-recurring expenditure.

Health care programs are simply much more expensive over a 100 year window than a stimulus bill, a war, or a weapons program.

Posted by: lancediverson | November 3, 2009 9:24 AM | Report abuse

Good catch fbacon2

Posted by: etdean1 | November 3, 2009 2:31 PM | Report abuse

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