Trumpocalypse Reality Check: Government Spending This Century Has Grown from $3.2 Trillion to $7 Trillion

An unrealistically draconian budget that doesn't even cut spending is greeted with predictable hysteria.


How is the political class responding to a Donald Trump budget blueprint that utterly fails to cut spending even while including many dramatic regulatory-state cuts that Congress will never, ever approve? With about as much sober perspective as you would expect:

Here is a helpful reminder for that side of your universe busy losing their shit: During this woefully misgoverned 21st century of ours, with its sluggish economic growth and serially disastrous wars, panics, bailouts, and stimuli, combined U.S. federal, state, and local government expenditures have zoomed from around $3.2 trillion in fiscal year 2000 ($4.5 trillion in today's dollars) to north of $7 trillion this year, according to Christopher Chantrill's useful aggregator USGovernmentSpending.com. During that time the U.S. population has grown from an estimated 281 million to 324 million, so even after adjusting for inflation, government spending has grown more than three times as fast as Census numbers.

And yet here is the type of headline we will be reading all season long: "Trump's plan to dismember government." That, from CNN on Tuesday, was no mere headline hyperbole—here's the opening section from senior enterprise reporter Stephen Collinson:

President Donald Trump plans to dismember government one dollar at a time.

His first budget—expected to be unveiled later this week—will mark Trump's most significant attempt yet to remold national life and the relationship between federal and state power.

It would codify an assault on regulatory regimes over the environment, business and education

Italics mine, for future death-metal band names.

No, fuck you, cut spending. ||| Reason

Here are three iron rules of political-class reactions to any whiff of budget cuts: 1) Every previous budget ratchet will be ignored, yet taken as the minimum acceptable baseline. 2) If even 1 percent of a to-be-reduced bloc of spending can be described as keeping granny from starving to death, that will be precisely how the whole bag of money is characterized. 3) It will all be about the president, even though the president writes no budgets.

This will be this century's third sustained round of media histrionics about the supposedly "annihilating" effects of "savage budget cuts." The first concerned the zombie-apocalypse of unsupervised skating and threatened (though never quite delivered) mass teacher-firings during the 2009-2010 state budget crisis. (Which was routinely blamed on brutal austerity instead of the massive spending run-up just before the financial bubble burst in 2008.) The second, in 2012-13, warned of the poisoned meat, reduced travel perks, and a generation's worth of lost science (no, really) resulting from the totally modest and all-too-temporary budget sequestration.

After those two near-death events it's a wonder that we still know how to breathe.

Trump's military boost will almost certainly be approved. His 25 percent cut to the Environmental Protection Agency almost certainly will not. He's a historically unpopular president currently risking what political capital he has on a deeply (and rightfully) unpopular Obamacare reboot; you think that the congresscritters who are currently fleeing constituent townhalls like rats from an ice floe are prepping themselves to face down the next few months' of "Congress Rapes the Environment to Please the Rich" headlines?

The net result, in an era when Congress doesn't even make budgets anymore and both parties are in thrall to debt denialists, is that the federal government during Trump's first year in office is likely to spend and borrow even more than he's proposing today. That is the real scandal, if one unlikely to break through the purple-faced rage of media hyperventilation.

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  1. The NEA and PBS and most of the Prog elite sacred cows were created in the mid-1960s or later. I wish someone would ask Kristof if he considers 1959 America to be a post-Roman dark ages. Really? What a putz.

    1. I always laugh when I see left-wingers long for the glory days of 1950s economic policy. Let’s see if they still insist on the tax rates and the return of a few pieces of repealed regulation when it means no more Medicare, Medicaid, Obamacare, food stamps, EITC, OSHA, EPA, Departments of Education, Energy, etc., NEA, PBS, Sarbanes-Oxley, Dodd-Frank, etc.

      1. Yeah, that is a really good point. And no civil rights act or EEOC either.

        1. I usually grant them that since their nostalgia is usually aimed at fiscal and labor policy that often explicitly excludes civil rights protections. Even ignoring all of that, I don’t think they’d be too thrilled about that deal.

    2. I wish someone would ask Kristof if he considers 1959 America to be a post-Roman dark ages.

      Sad thing is, in all likelihood the only thing that dipshit “knows” about pre-60’s America is that it was before the civil rights era and before “The Great Society”.

      So any suggestion that 1959 or earlier wasn’t that bad would probably be greeted by an avalanche of self-righteous indignation and foaming at the mouth. Probably followed by accusations that you’d like to bring back Jim Crow and get rid of medicare/ medicaid, which as “everyone knows” is the only thing keeping old people and the poor from literally dying in the streets.

      He probably really is that stupid.

      1. The New Deal happened long before 1959 too-ya know the one that subsidized the demon industries of tobacco and coal? But it did not create the EPA, NEA, or any civil rights legislation.

  2. Ya so where does krugman get this idea of austerity??!

    1. Essentially, if spending is cut or only increased slightly, it is automatically austerity even if it was preceded by a massive increase.

      So increasing spending by 10% every year is not austerity. Increasing it by 50% in two years and then increasing it by 1% is austerity.

  3. I often feel like I live in a rapidly decaying empire. One that is collapsing because of greed, corruption, generations of bad governance, and general stupidity. The barbarians at the gates were there because Rome destroyed itself internally.

    1. The barbarians at the gates were there because Rome destroyed itself internally.

      ^ This.

    2. ^ this indeed.

    3. The barbarians were mostly European refugees, fleeing the Huns. The Western Roman Empire failed to keep out the refugees. Male refugees of military age were particularly troublesome.

    4. So far, no government has lasted forever. And there’s no reason to believe any will. It’s just a question of how long it can last before going up in flames.

  4. President Donald Trump plans to dismember government one dollar at a time.

    Oh, the fake news. Of course this is going to be Sequesterocalypse Now. Your grandmother will be eating cat food without public television to nourish her. The public parks will be shut down even if they’re not even part of it. The news coverage will be embarrassing even as we commit tax dollars at high levels.

    1. Yeah. I thought Trump would recommend even bigger cuts to government agencies and then let Congress scale back cuts. Instead this is a weak cut of discretionary spending and it will still get scaled back.

      Sequesterpocalypse- I like it!

  5. At least we won’t have to hear about the existential threat to America deriving from possible military cuts.

  6. I am not too familiar with Nikolas Kristof….is he a moron? I just know he is nytimes which slobbers all over the top men.

    The worst commentators in order that i know of are:

    1. Krugman
    2. Brooks
    3. Friedman

    Where would Kristof fit?

    1. 4

      But I would put Friedman tied at two for his fascism fetish. Man in giant house wishes we could be China for a day and get a bunch of stuff “done”.

  7. Well, it is the usual freakout. I’m not surprised by this hysteria, this is the same hysteria that occurs whenever any Republican, even ones not named Trump, proposes cutting any program by any amount. This isn’t TDS, this is just generalized RDS – Republican Derangement Syndrome. Or perhaps more accurately, it is GWS – Government Worshipping Syndrome.

  8. Reading through the Trump budget, I feel as the Romans must have felt in 456 AD as the barbarians conquered and ushered in the dark ages.

    This near-total Ignorance of how the Roman Empire ‘fell’ is a pox on the political discourse of the modern western world.

    The multiple sacks of Rome in the fifth century were not a terribly grievous blow – Rome hadn’t been the capital of the Empire since 312, and even the western emperors tended to avoid the city of Rome itself. It was already fast becoming a backwater by 450. The empire west of there had never been terribly well established as compared with the east. The urban centers of population where all the taxpayers lived were in Greece, Asia Minor, Syria, and Egypt. They let the West go because it was more trouble than it was worth – it was a net expense to try to hold onto Spain, France and Britain, especially when the Huns were putting pressure on the East.

    On the converse side, when the Visigoths sacked Rome, they got in because a Roman citizen opened the gate. They almost certainly did this because they were sick and tired of being over-taxed and over-regulated by decadent and parasitical monarchs who were hiding in their fortress at Ravenna at the time.

    1. Ironically, the Visigoths were trying to save the Empire from the Huns and from other Germanic tribes, over the objections of the ruling class who didn’t want barbarians serving in the Roman Army. When the Visigoths took it upon themselves to successfully suppress the revolt of Maximus, they were finally rewarded with a kingdom in France.

      The ‘Roman Empire’ didn’t ‘fall’ because one party in the Senate shifted some budget categories around.

      1. Truth died with the 20th century; facts hold no power.

    2. In 455, Vandals sacked Rome. It took about two weeks but was done in a relatively orderly manner (for the time) and resulted in no further disturbances.
      In 456, Ricimer defeated Vandals in Sicily, returned to Italy, deposed Avitus, and the war went on for years.

      If Romans felt anything in 456, it was probably “our guy winning is NOT always better”.

      1. Vandals *sacked* Rome. It took about two weeks but was done *in a relatively orderly* manner.

        Tell us you meant to do that.

        1. Well, they became famous for destruction of artwork and not for burning lots of buildings or killing lots of people.

  9. All I know is that back before FDR the size and scope of the federal government was a mere fraction of what it is now – and the vast majority of the poor bastards who had to suffer the burdens of that smaller government are now dead. Is that what you want – a small government that results in a massive number of dead people? You’re a sick puppy, you heartless monster.

    1. Is that what you want – a small government that results in a massive number of dead people?

      Only the ones not working in my orphan factory.

  10. Is Kristof’s tweet satire? Comparing the fall of the Roman Empire to less than $100 billion in cuts to government spending (not even 3% of the budget, and not even 1% of GDP) is a tad bit dramatic. And the Roman history is bad on top of that (I’m assuming he meant 476. Though the fall of Rome wasn’t exactly a sudden moment and the dark ages narrative is simplistic at best).

    1. Is Kristof’s tweet satire?


      Though the fall of Rome wasn’t exactly a sudden moment and the dark ages narrative is simplistic at best).

      He is a simple-minded person.

  11. If only the Romans had taxed, regulated and spent more money….

  12. Isn’t more like only a few billion cut since the military would get a boost along with DHS?

  13. Trump’s most significant attempt yet to remold national life

    So wanting to fire a bunch of the people who have been hard at work remolding the national life, is a terrible act of remolding the national life. The actual result would be less remolding of the national life. Thanks for another heaping helping of dishonesty, CNN.

  14. He’s a historically unpopular president

    Really? Maybe were you live Matt, not were I do. Just 5 months ago he won 30 states.

    1. It’s true if you compare to similar points in other presidencies. Trump got just enough support to win the election, but has little support from anyone else. Past presidents usually got a much larger inauguration bump as more people in the middle or the opposing side “gave them a chance” to start.

    2. I mean as measured by all the post-WWII presidents in national opinion polls at the same point in his presidency.

  15. What i would be interested is these people that use terms like: historical, record etc actually show if they meet those qualifications. Historically unpopular compared to say GWB at end of term?

    1. Or, say, James Buchanan at end of term?

    2. See above.

  16. After those two near-death events it’s a wonder that we still know how to breathe.

    Hyperventilating is the new breathing, Matt.

  17. ” . . . combined U.S. federal, state, and local government expenditures have zoomed from around $3.2 trillion in fiscal year 2000 ($4.5 trillion in today’s dollars) to north of $7 trillion . . .”

    While it’s scary that $20T of fed debt is not worthy of a daily front page headline, it’s also depressing/scary that a giant “meh” is all there is in response to the fact that it now takes $4.5T to equal the $3.2T dollars of just 17 years ago. Luckily, now that there is a Republican in the White House, we can look forward to the NY Times once again taking notice of our elderly who are trying to make ends meet in a world of inflation and low interest rates.

    1. it now takes $4.5T to equal the $3.2T dollars of just 17 years ago

      I noticed that too. That’s really fucking scary. And it’s not just old people that are impacted, a lot of workers routinely get annual raises equal to less than inflation (if they’re lucky enough to get a raise at all).

      1. “Nothing left to cut!”

  18. Although the pattern was broken a bit by Obama’s massive budgets, I have observed that the federal government has usually taken in revenue that equals what it spent about 5 years prior.


    2004 revenues $1.880T 1999 spending $1.701T
    2005 revenues $2.153T 2000 spending $1.789T
    2006 revenues $2.406T 2001 spending $1.862T
    2007 revenues $2.568T 2002 spending $2.010T
    2008 revenues $2.524T 2003 spending $2.159T
    2009 revenues $2.105T 2004 spending $2.292T
    2010 revenues $2.162T 2005 spending $2.472T
    2011 revenues $2.303T 2006 spending $2.655T
    2012 revenues $2.450T 2007 spending $2.728T
    2013 revenues $2.775T 2008 spending $2.982T
    2014 revenues $3.021T 2009 spending $3.517T
    2015 revenues $3.249T 2010 spending $3.457T
    2016 revenues $3.335T 2011 spending $3.603T

    So all it would take to get back in the black (or fairly close to it), so to speak, is to assume that right now we have a big enough government spending enough money–if we don’t have a big enough government now, we never will–and say “freeze it”. Don’t allocate another penny in budget for next over this year, not even for inflation. Hold that course for a mere five years and let revenues catch up.

    No big cuts needed, no new taxes needed. Just the fortitude to say enough is enough.

  19. I noticed on CNN a headline “Plan does bupkus about $20 trillion debt”

    Of course CNN cares about the debt, now that Obama’s finally finished adding $10T to it (although Medicaid expansion and other Obamacare items may keep on giving).

  20. Rats from an ice floe?

  21. Very appropriate reference to Dylan’s Idiot Wind.

  22. I’m glad that in 25 years or so, Reason mag has finally figured out that the press is full of big government loving left wingers.

  23. I work in the NIH world. It follows the 80/20 rule just like everything else.

  24. Slash and burn the budget. The world went on just fine the last time the government shut down. Maybe if cut a trillion or two and life goes on as normal people will start to wonder why we were spending those trillions in the first place.

  25. The budget PROPOSAL submitted by the President is irrelevant. The requirement for that piece of fiction came from a legislature hunting for cover to avoid their constitutional responsibility.
    Section 7, article 1:
    “All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills.”

    1. The budget PROPOSAL submitted by the President is irrelevant.

      Congress to POTUS: “Wifey, your budget proposal is irrelevant! I don’t care that you think we spend $1500/month on rent and $1000/month on household expenses. Here is your $2000 for the month, and you better spend it on having the Ferrari detailed, and oh, please send $300 each to my mistresses Mary, Clarissa, and Alotta! Now shut up and make me a sandwich.”

  26. WASHINGTON (AP) – In a move that is described as “shocking” and “unprecedented” by long-time Washington politicians and commentators, president Donald Trump, barely weeks into his presidency, is actually making an honest effort to fulfill his campaign promises: increase military spending, roll back the regulatory state, and decrease other non-entitlement spending. Politicians were unavailable for further comments because all those contacted by the AP rapidly developed massive amounts of foam after their initial shocked reaction. An unnamed member of the Trump administration, however, commented “we do not know whether it’s going to work, but what have you got to lose?”.

  27. Matt, what does a picture from Wizard of Oz have to do with the federal budget proposal? Are you hinting that the budget process has no courage? Or that it can get courage from the wizard (government)?

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