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The budget in boxes

The New York Times had a wonderful budget graphic last week that did a nice job putting both the budget and the freeze into perspective. First, here's what our budget looks like, with each major category broken into its own box.


Now, here's what the budget looks like without so-called "mandatory spending," which the discretionary freeze doesn't touch.


The biggest box left is defense spending, which is exempted from the freeze. Then comes spending on veterans, which is also exempt. Leaving those two out, the big-ticket items are things like Section 8 housing vouchers and the National Institutes of Health. If you head over to the Times Web site, you can click on the boxes yourself to see what they are. There's not that much stuff you desperately want to cut.

In part, that's because this stuff gets cut more frequently anyway. The reason that mandatory spending and security spending are exempt is that the politics of cutting either are too difficult. But that's always true, which means there's a lot more ongoing scrutiny of these unprotected discretionary programs than of the protected programs, which is a good reason to think that they might be some of the less wasteful items in the federal budget.

By Ezra Klein  |  February 8, 2010; 1:42 PM ET
Categories:  Budget  
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Think of all we could have done without Bush's two wars, now rapidly becoming Obama's two wars. Just think of it. Think of the local infrastructure, clean energy initiatives, education, and health care. Talk about lost opportunities. Too bad the argument so rarely gets framed that way.

Posted by: Mimikatz | February 8, 2010 2:09 PM | Report abuse

The Tea-Party cry is, "cut everything!" I'd like to see a televised round table with some vehement anti-government advocate.

Show him that budget treemap. Then give him a pen and say, "go ahead, start cutting." Each time he cuts something, list the effects of his cut. How many people lose their jobs, their homes, or their medical coverage? How many roads or bridges are left to degrade? How far behind does a faltering education system leave our kids? How much does it leave America insecure and undefended?

Let's see if even the most iron-stomached Tea Partier can cut more than 4% out of the budget without remorse.

Posted by: billkarwin | February 8, 2010 2:48 PM | Report abuse

Mimikatz, you don't know much about public sector budgeting.

Wars are not as expensive as programs like health and education because their spending shuts off when the ward cease. People do not acquire a dependency on wars. They do get dependent on health care and education programs. If you would looks at the 50 year cost of the war in Iraq and or Afghanistan, it would be much cheaper than the 50 year cost of an expansive health care or education program.

Really, non-recurring costs like wars or bridge maintenance has to be viewed as from a totally separate pot of money from recurring public programs like health insurance. They should never be conflated.

Posted by: lancediverson | February 8, 2010 2:55 PM | Report abuse

Lance: "People do not acquire a dependency on wars . . . ." Unless they work in the military-industrial complex, where promotions and incomes are dependent on continuing wars or making ready for wars, or they have an ideological investment in perpetuating conflict, or in a particular conflict. Surely you have heard of Eisenhower's Farewell Address warning of the dangers of the military-industrial complex.

Granted defense expenditures have declined from 50% of the budget in the 1960s, but that is partially because the health sector has grown so much. Since Reagan started pumping up the defense budget, it hasn't really declined in absolute terms, just relative.

Posted by: Mimikatz | February 8, 2010 3:41 PM | Report abuse

@ Lance and jumping on Mimi's post:

Why only focus on the two most recent, most public wars? Why not all wars we've perpetrated or financially supported over a specific time frame? And include funding of "Homeland Security industrial complex" as well.

Posted by: onewing1 | February 8, 2010 4:18 PM | Report abuse


Then your problem is appropriately with the defense department budget. I can agree with you there. But the wars have no significant affect on the long term, structural budget deficit problem. So let us put that canard aside and focus on the problem, which is a very large defense department procurement budget and a large and seemingly never-ending military presence in places like Korea and Germany.

Posted by: lancediverson | February 8, 2010 5:26 PM | Report abuse

I notice you don't mention the other two big boxes, Medicare and Social Security, which consume 1/3 of the federal budget and grow bigger and bigger every year. They are also excluded from Obama's "freeze".

Posted by: RobT1 | February 9, 2010 7:28 AM | Report abuse

how about a corresponding chart of revenue sources?

Posted by: jamesoneill | February 9, 2010 9:17 AM | Report abuse

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