Yes, the investigative team at the Washington Post is back on the trail. Today's front page expose highlights a government program that uses 0.00008 percent of the federal budget to promote the health benefits of walnuts. The piece tells readers that this program is a "hard not to crack." It explained that even though Representative Tom McClintock pushed to kill the program; Congress voted 322-98 to keep it, claiming that it provided benefits to farmers.
Of course this is not the only example of a wasteful program uncovered by the Post's investigative team. They also highlight the "Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation," a program that runs an essay contest for middle schoolers interested in science. This one takes up 0.00001 percent of the federal budget. Then we have the Lake Murray State Park Airport in Oklahoma on which the government wastes 0.000004 percent of its budget each year.
And, the Post reminds us of its earlier investigative work, like when it exposed the fact that 0.006 percent of Social Security benefits are sent to dead people in an earlier front page story. The Post adds to this that each month Social Security mistakenly identifies 0.00003 percent of its covered population as being dead even though they are still alive.
After going through a number of very small programs that the Post has decided are wasteful, the article implies that somehow spending has not actually been cut.
"Three years after deficit-driven Republicans took the House, Washington’s experiment with budget-cutting has produced mixed results. Politicians have, indeed, had historic success cutting numbers — the abstract, friend-less figures at the bottom of the federal balance sheet.
"In the next fiscal year, for instance, the government’s “discretionary” spending will be limited to $1.012 trillion. That figure was set by the budget deal agreed to last week. That’s down about 13 percent from 2010, adjusting for inflation.
"There has been very little change in 'mandatory' spending programs, which account for the vast majority of federal spending."
Of course spending has actually been cut. The result has been that growth has been stunted. Hundreds of thousands more people are unemployed. This means that the spending cuts demanded by the Post in both its editorial and news sections has thrown the parents of our children out of work. These cuts have also made it much more difficult for young people just leaving school to find jobs.
The Post's complaint about the fact that mandatory spending has not been cut reflects the fact that people across the political spectrum overwhelming support Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, as well as the other programs that account for the overwhelming majority of mandatory spending. The Post and its chosen sources, in this case the Concord Coalition, a Peter Peterson creation, are relatively lonely in pushing for cuts to these programs.
It is also worth noting that mandatory spending actually is now projected to be considerably lower as a result of a sharp slowdown in the rate of growth of health care costs. Spending for Medicare and Medicaid in 2020 is now projected to be about 10 percent less than was projected in 2010. The projected savings in later years are even larger.
I see from comments that some folks think it is appropriate to make a big deal about items that might be less than 0.0001 percent of the budget. That's great if you want to spend your time on these relatively small amounts of spending, but it means that your efforts will have no noticeable impact on overall spending and deficits. If you want to have an impact on overall spending then you have spend your time on items that actually involve a big share of the budget. That's just arithmetic.
My guess is that the vast majority of readers of the WaPo have no idea how insignificant the items it chose to highlight were to the overall budget because it never provided this information. Since most people have relatively little time to concern themselves with such issues, my guess is that they would rather focus on items that actually do have a noticeable impact on spending and deficits rather ones that the paper chose to highlight in an effort to make the government seem wasteful.
Correction made on projections for Medicare, thanks ltr.
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