Washington Post: 'big government is mostly unchanged'

The new normal. ||| Mercatus CenterMercatus CenterYour periodic reminder that the unbearable largeness of government is ongoing and eternal, despite a half-dozen recent showdowns over federal spending, comes from Sunday's Washington Post. Excerpt:

After 2 1/years of budget battles, this is what the federal government looks like now:

It is on pace, this year, to spend $3.455 trillion.

That figure is down from 2010 — the year that worries about government spending helped bring on a tea party uprising, a Republican takeover in the House and then a series of ulcer-causing showdowns in Congress.

But it is not down by that much. Back then, the government spent a whopping $3.457 trillion.

Measured another way — not in dollars, but in people — the government has about 4.1 million employees today, military and civilian. That’s more than the populations of 24 states.

Back in 2010, it had 4.3 million employees. More than the populations of 24 states.

These numbers underline a point not made often enough: The stimulus was supposed to be a surge, a temporary increase to be pulled back after the crisis was averted. Instead, predictably, it just created a new baseline level of government spending.

Whole thing here. Link via the Twitter feed of the Post’s Dan Froomkin, who comments: “I'm still appalled by this poorly argued anti-government diatribe masquerading as a front-page WaPo story on Sunday.”

Serious about balancing the budget without raising taxes? Then read this Reason classic from Nick Gillespie and Veronique de Rugy: "The 19 Percent Solution."

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  • some guy||

    Something... something.. NEW NORMAL... something.

  • ||

    3, 2, 1...cue Shreeek!

  • Hyperion||

    We should queue him instead, in the Queue of Trolls who were no more.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    The fact that government growth has stalled at $3.5 trillion is not trivial.

    The Jekyll and Hyde GOP only turns fiscally conservative when a (D) is in the White House. Let us praise gridlock.

  • Almanian!||

    The fact that government growth has stalled at $3.5 trillion is not trivial.

    Yeah it is.

    If it were sustainable - that's not trivial. But it's not - the entire system is broken on "Ratchet UP!"

    So a one- or two-year hitch in the giddyup of Our Federal Overlords is....nothing.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    Four years - the entire Obama first term.

    The CBO pegged FY -08/09 spending at $3.5 trillion before Obama was sworn in.

  • Almanian!||

    It's still at the more-elevated-than-before level of 2008, which took a bigger jump than prior years.

    So - no. It's trivial.

  • Aresen||

    The stimulus was supposed to happen, then go away.

    For some reason, it didn't go away.

    And the real costs of Obamacare are scheduled to kick in well after BHO has left office, so Team Blue will be able to pretend that it wasn't St Barry of the Unicorn that caused the deficit to zoom when that happens.

  • Neoliberal Kochtopus||

    this is a point the Bluetards ignore all the time. The one-time stimulus became a structural part of spending, and that's a problem.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    OK, that fixed amount ($841 billion) is being spread over multiple years.

    Its not like a recurring stimulus though.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    What evidence do you have that the stimulus is still around? The stimulus was a fixed dollar amount consisting of about $270 billion in tax cuts and 2x that amount in spending.

  • Aresen||

    ?

    Spending went up by the "stimulus" amount in the last Bush budget.

    Spending has not gone down - your initial claim was that spending had not increased in the Obama budgets. One can only say that the spending has not increased if you maintain that the stimulus was not temporary at all.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    Jan 8, 2009 CBO report

    Outlays.
    Without changes in current laws and policies,
    CBO estimates, outlays will rise from $3.0 trillion in
    2008 to $3.5 trillion in 2009 (see Table 5). Mandatory
    spending is projected to grow by almost $570 billion, or
    by 36 percent; nearly three-quarters of that growth results
    from the activities of the TARP and CBO’s treatment of
    Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac as federal entities. Discre-
    tionary spending is projected to grow by $52 billion, or
    by 4.6 percent. In contrast, net interest is anticipated to
    decline by 22 percent as a result of lower interest rates
    and lower inflation. In total, outlays will be equal to
    24.9 percent of GDP, a level exceeded only during the
    later years of World War I

    http://www.cbo.gov/sites/defau.....timony.pdf

    This was clearly pre-stimulus. The stimulus was supplemental (off budget) like the Iraq War was treated 2002-09.

  • R C Dean||

    This is why one should look at actual gross federal spending, to avoid the "budget/off-budget games".

    Actual outlays in 2008 - $2.9T with a deficit of 3.2% of GDP.

    Actual outlays in 2009 - $3.5T with a deficit of 10.1% of GDP.

    http://www.taxpolicycenter.org.....?Docid=200

    We argue endlessly over who "owns" the 2009 fiscal year. Given CBO's projection in January of $3.5T in spending, and the subsequent passage of a stimulus bill worth hundreds of billions of dollars, I'm wondering just what CBO was looking at, because $3.5T plus hundreds of billions is, err, more than 3.5T.

    Now, if you look at the actual 2009 budget signed by Bush, it is more like $2.9T.

    Regardless of exactly what chair Barack was warming at any given time, there is no doubt that he supported every penny of the expansion in spending from 2008 on, and added hundreds of billions to it after he became President.

    I'm constantly amused by those who Blame Bush for things that Barack has done more and harder.

  • CE||

    FY2009 was the last Bush budget, and he deserves the blame. Obama deserves the blame for continuing to spend at that ruinous level, rather than paring back the budget to something somewhat more sane.

  • Hopfiend||

    You are stuck in a left/right zero sum discussion. It's the response to an argument very few (almost none) here are making. But, by all means keep going.

  • Drizzle||

    Gridlock keeps them from doing stupider shit than they already are, so yes, praise gridlock.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Instead, predictably, it just created a new baseline level of government spending.

    But now, luckily, the sequestersharknado is the new baseline. We're saved.

  • CE||

    Unless you live in the West, which is burning to the ground due to climate change, there are no firefighters or water tanker planes due to sequester, and we can't leave since all the air traffic controllers were furloughed!

  • Free Society||

    These numbers underline a point not made often enough: The stimulus was supposed to be a surge, a temporary increase to be pulled back after the crisis was averted.

    That was never the intent. Everything the federal government does is just a foot in the door for more power and more spending.

  • Jordan||

    Link via the Twitter feed of the Post’s Dan Froomkin

    Does anybody else imagine a Froomkin being a special kind of merkin? Perhaps the pubic equivalent of a mullet?

  • Almanian!||

    Froomkin IS an awesome last name.

    And, yes, it does sound like a very, very special kind of merkin.

  • Acosmist||

    Well now I do, thanks for that image.

  • SugarFree||

    Short in the front, long the back... Like a nice trim up front, but then really long asshole hair?

  • Almanian!||

    This is exactly what I was thinking.

    It frightens me that you came to the same conclusion.

    I must engage in....self reflection, for some time...

  • SugarFree||

    Contemplate this on the Tree of Braided Ass Hair.

  • wareagle||

    The stimulus was supposed to be a surge, a temporary increase to be pulled back after the crisis was averted.

    according to whom, Matt? And why would you believe this? Nothing in govt's history provides any evidence for thinking a spike in govt spending is temporary.

  • Mainer2||

    The W.C. Fields school of politics

  • Aresen||

    The stimulus was sold as being temporary.

    Libertarians, by and large, had seen that wreck on the lot before and weren't buying.

  • Almanian!||

    Aren't we supposed to be surprised at this? Like the downward adjustments in prior quarters growth, or higher "than expected" current unemployment rates?

    "This was unexpected..."

  • Mainer2||

    Slight decline in spending ? So AUSTERITY then.

  • Almanian!||

    A decline in actual spending is more like ERMAHGERD SERKWERSTERPOCOLOMAGEDDONADONACHT !1!1!1

  • CE||

    Yes, clearly the recovery would be stronger if Obama had kept the budget axe in the tool shed. A Nobel-prize winning economist said so, in the newspaper of record.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Instead, predictably, it just created a new baseline level of government spending.

    Huh. Never saw that coming.

  • bmp1701||

    Well, if the rate of increase has temporarily slowed down, that's something to be glad about. Normally, in government logic a population/inflation adjustment isn't even considered an "increase", so this is pretty much austereageddon.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    “I'm still appalled by this poorly argued anti-government diatribe masquerading as a front-page WaPo story on Sunday.”

    LOLSRSLYOMFGWTF

  • Doctor Whom||

    Shorter Froomkin: "Heresy!"

  • Doctor Whom||

    I prefer for government spending to be shown in inflation-corrected dollars per capita. Even by that metric, however, federal spending has quadrupled in my lifetime, and overall government spending has more than tripled.

  • Tony||

    Yeah that chart is kind of crap.

  • Doctor Whom||

    federal spending has quadrupled in my lifetime

    I misread the chart, but it has still more than tripled.

  • plusafdotcom||

    that AND on semilog scales, where a straight line represents a constant percentage increase...

    Even with the crappy little graph, you can extrapolate the "Pre-surge" line up through today and see that we're right on track for the next increase, and exactly where we would have been without the "surge," other than not having wasted as much money in the interim years.

    ah, but as Barbie says, "Math is Hard!"

  • Hyperion||

    Our government will self destruct. It's just a matter of time. They believe that they must be involved in everything and control everything. They keep biting off more. Now you have folks 3D printing things that they don't like. You have people infiltrating their dark secrets and exposing things that they don't like. Every time they ban a substance, someone invents a new one. What's next? There should be a trillion nexts. Someone should genetically modify pot plants so that they can look like anything, a petunia, whatever. They won't be able to resist going after every hook that we cast. Just cast so many of those hooks that they overwhelm themselves and implode. It's sort of like death of a thousand cuts. You know they can't let go of one single thing.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    government growth has stalled at $3.5 trillion

    Don't fret, li'l buddy. It's just resting.

  • Invisible Finger||

    FedGov will be stupid enough to intervene in Syria and probably Egypt so we can expect another sharp increase in spending.

  • ||

    BEZOS HAS ALREADY TURNED THE POST INTO A PROPAGANDA MACHINE!

  • Hyperion||

    Maybe he really is just a puppet of the Kochtopus.

  • Pro Libertate||

    "No, fuck you, cut spending."

  • Almanian!||

    thank you for the reminder

  • Pro Libertate||

    Focus, people, focus!

  • creech||

    Even a $million cut in a $5 million planned increase is spun as "spending slashed - our children in peril." How does one use the truth to overcome such mendacity?

    I had a lefty tell me at a picnic this weekend that "right wing economic predications of runaway inflation have been disproved. In fact, we should carpet-bomb the U.S. with hundred dollar bills and solve the unemployment problem in one fell swoop." He didn't buy my
    explanation that such a highly visible display of printing money would immediately cause prices to rise, while a largely hidden and not understood printing of money by the Fed can spool out for a long time before price increases come roaring in.

  • Doctor Whom||

    In fact, we should carpet-bomb the U.S. with hundred dollar bills and solve the unemployment problem in one fell swoop.

    Erma H. ferckin' Gerd, even when I was a little kid, I knew what the result would be.

  • Hyperion||

    right wing economic predications of runaway inflation have been disproved

    There is no runaway inflation, yet.

    I've had proggies tell me flat out that inflation does not even exist in the US, it's just a scare mongering tactic of the GOP. How then, can a gallon of milk that costs 19 cents when I was a kid, be $4 now? When it takes 20x the amount of dollar to buy something than it used to, isn't that dollar inflated?

    Food prices and the costs of just about everything, food for instance, are rising a lot faster than wages are now. Serious inflation is just a matter of time. Our federal government absolutely will not stop expanding and spending and taxing and printing, so it's inevitable that inflation will get out of control in the near future.

    Bureaucrats, lobbyists, and elected officials need money to pay their mortgages on those 2 million dollar DC homes that would sell for 200k anywhere else in the country. And the rest of us need to suffer because of that, it's for the children.

  • Nephilium||

    I think an easier way to point out inflation is to point back 20 years ago, when if you had a $50 or $100 bill, you needed to be concerned that you would be able to find somewhere to break it. Now you can go buy a pop at the gas station, and they'll break that $50 or $100 for you.

  • Tony||

    It is not prudent to solve a problem that is unlikely to happen and for which conditions don't exist to cause it (i.e., it is imaginary) before we solve the basic, obvious problem that economic policy is supposed to be about in the first place: the high level of unemployment.

  • Contrarian P||

    Yes, your interventions have done such a wonderful job of solving that problem. What level of evidence would lead you to conclude that government economic policy does not lead to employment?

  • ||

    Of course, since staglfation busted the Philips curve and proved that there isn't a linear relationship between inflation and unemployment, that statement is a complete and total non-sequitur. But actually, it's better if government sticks by your plan and only makes one problem worse at a time, if possible.

  • Drake||

    As always, I shall complain about the labeling. The President does not control spending (other than veto power). The Speaker of the House and Senate Majority lead should have their names on these periods.

  • CE||

    Except that the White House publishes the budget every year, and the Congress more or less falls in line with those plans. Despite the way the Constitution was written.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    "No, fuck you, cut spending."

    NEVAAARRRRR!

    *skips merrily away, tossing handfulls of hundred dollar bills drawn from a canvas sack marked "SWAG" into the air*

  • The Late P Brooks||

    The W.C. Fields school of politics

    I'd say more like P T Barnum.

  • Tony||

    Measured another way — not in dollars, but in people — the government has about 4.1 million employees today, military and civilian.

    If only "measuring by people" were applied to the other end of the conversation. The Bush economic meltdown led to a lot of people losing their incomes. That means more participation in safety net programs. (Bizarrely many antigovernment types think this increased spending has been newly appropriated by Congress, or something.)

    Of course you guys can't even articulate why it's not only good to cut spending now but the most important thing ever. Just an article of faith. One whose maintenance is more important than considering the livelihoods of human beings. Because just in case you weren't aware, your allies on Capitol Hill who want to cut spending at all costs generally mean spending that goes to the poor and vulnerable.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    Of course you guys can't even articulate why it's not only good to cut spending now but the most important thing ever.

    Christ you're a moron.

    Reasons to cut federal spending:

    - Crowds out private investment
    - Those dollars must be paid back thru taxes, inflation, or both
    - Seriously misallocates capital and causes long term damage to the economy

    I'm certain others can contribute to this list, but most importantly, fuck you, cut spending.

  • Neoliberal Kochtopus||

    You're the one responding to it, so who's really the moron?

  • Jordan||

    Man, Tony really showed that strawman who's boss.

  • Tony||

    fuck you, cut spending.

    As good a distillation of the argument as any. No actual economic argument, just a list of articles of faith that can apply at any time under any circumstances and which you will never change.

  • ||

    Those poor people who you always seem to defend will bare the brunt of the upcoming implosion of government debt and insolvency. You cold give two shits about the poor because they are nothing more then prawns in your game of having government control every facet of life. Fuck off slaver.

  • Jordan||

    Not to mention the fact that Federal Reserve policy explicitly funnels wealth from the poorest to the wealthiest.

  • ||

    Exactly.

  • Tony||

    the upcoming implosion of government debt and insolvency.

    You mean the one Republicans are going to cause by forcing a debt limit crisis? Or the imaginary and cynical scare story with no credible economic argument behind it I referred to?

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    The one that happens when the Federal Reserve has a bond sale and nobody shows up.

  • ||

    I've been lurking in Reason's comments for a long time and these guys have articulated very well why spending must be decreased. It's you who refuse to acknowledge that spending decreases needs to happen despite the overwhelming evidence. Do you actually think anything good can come out of a system that spends more then it takes in, have a tax system that is nearly 60,000 pages long or a regulatory structure that is a showcase of crony capitalism and a burden on businesses that don't have the ear of the government. Like come on, I know you have an ideology to defend but sooner or later reality is going crash down on you.

  • Tony||

    The only argument for why spending has to be slashed right now despite the harm it will cause to employment numbers, vulnerable people, and economic growth is a fear of hyperinflation--which is not a credible fear and quite obviously a lame excuse for pushing an antigovernment ideological agenda. It really shouldn't be any secret by now that everyone wanting to slash spending on government programs don't like those programs to begin with and have been saying the exact same thing for decades, no matter the economic circumstances.

    What bothers me is not that people oppose programs but that they invent imaginary crises, pretending that we have no other choice but to enact their ideological agenda. A little honesty would go a long way toward winning over my respect, if not my agreement--though I suspect the lying goes on because the agenda is just not at all popular.

  • ||

    So we should have the government spend more money in the form of a stimulus and then unemployment will be much lower and everything will be okay. When that happens, the politicians will then cut spending because they hate to spend what we don't have and would never ever use taxpayer's money to give to their friends or bribe voters to vote for them.

  • Tony||

    If you don't want fiscal imprudence then be sure not to vote for Republicans. Every passing day since the 2008 crisis is evidence in favor of the argument that the way to solve both unemployment and the budget deficit is to find a way to stimulate broad economic demand. Cutting government spending is to do the opposite of that.

  • The Last American Hero||

    Labor participation rates are at historic highs and U6 has barely moved given that the recession ended more than 4 years ago.

  • The Last American Hero||

    Historic lows.

  • Drake||

    Like low taxes and less regulation?

  • Auric Demonocles||

    So when the government spends more money, and unemployment and the deficit both increase, this is evidence that that cutting government spending would lead to increased unemployment and deficits?

  • ||

    I don't vote for Republicans. Or Democrats.

    It's sad that you can only understand simple concepts when the right label is attached.

  • ||

    It's sad that you can only understand simple concepts when the right label is attached.

    Even then he doesn't understand the concept, he just knows who he's supposed to root for.

  • CE||

    I can articulate why it's important to cut government spending now (and always): because much of what government does is economic harm. They take money away from the productive and give it to the causes favored by the politically connected. Less spending by government means less politically directed spending and more spending (or saving) through the freely chose interactions of economic actors.

  • Hyperion||

    I smell troll stench.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Of course you guys can't even articulate why it's not only good to cut spending now but the most important thing ever.

    Yup. That must be it.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Because just in case you weren't aware, your allies on Capitol Hill who want to cut spending at all costs generally mean spending that goes to the poor and vulnerable.

    Those poor, vulnerable government contractors.

  • ||

    I always ask Progressives just exactly how much money do the government need to lower the poverty rate. To this day, never got a straight answer.

  • Drake||

    All of it?

  • The Late P Brooks||

    What bothers me is not that people oppose programs but that they invent imaginary crises, pretending that we have no other choice but to enact their ideological agenda.

    Whatever you do, DON'T LOOK IN THE MIRROR.

  • Not a Libertarian||

    What I found surprising about the chart in the relatively stable government spending during the NIxon administration.

    I would have been certain that spending substantially rose under Nixon.

    Is the relatively big jump under Ford in 1975 as the result of Democratic congressional gains in 1974 or was the Ford White House ramping up the budget themselves?

  • Drake||

    Nixon took over at the height of the Vietnam War and gradually wound it down over his first term. Nixon and the Democrats also saved a lot of cash by reneging on all the promises made to South Vietnam.

  • LPDave||

    One pet peeve I've had for a while is failing to distinguish between those who /determine/ policy (whom I call the government) and those who /implement/ policy (whom I call the bureaucracy).

    The federal government itself is very small, by my count only 1254 people: the 535 voting members of Congress, POTUS/VPOTUS and the 683-717 Executive branch members on the Executive Schedule. (This ignores the federal courts, but it's arguable whether they actually determine policy; even if they do, there are only 874 Article III judges authorized by law, including the Supreme Court.)

    That's it. 2128 people at the very most. Those millions of other people are part of the bureaucracy, and that's what really needs to be curtailed.

  • CE||

    What about public sector heroes like teachers, firefighters and the police? I thought the sequester was going to hurt them too.

  • ||

    If Obama's dog doesn't have a private Osprey on which to fly to Martha's Vineyard, every child in America will be stricken with polio, probably die for lack of CDC-funded vaccinations, and those who survive will either end up illiterate for lack of teachers, or burned to death due to lack of firefighters.

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