Runaway Spending

RUNAWAY SPENDING….Paul Krugman writes about the “myth of runaway federal spending under the Bush administration”:

But where did that increase come from? Three words: defense, Medicare, Medicaid. That’s the whole story….Behind these increases are the obvious things: the war McCain wants to fight for the next century, the general issue of excess cost growth in health care, and the prescription drug benefit.

So the next time Mr. McCain or anyone else promises to rein in runaway spending, they should be asked which of these things they intend to reverse. Are they talking about pulling out of Iraq? Denying seniors the latest medical treatments? Canceling the drug benefit? If not, what are they talking about?

For what it’s worth, that’s not quite the whole story. Domestic discretionary spending really has increased considerably under Bush. If my arithmetic is right, it increased about 6% under Bill Clinton (adjusted for inflation and population growth) and 16% so far under George Bush. That’s nothing to sneeze at.

Still, Krugman is right: the absolute size of domestic discretionary spending is tiny compared to the big ticket items, and this means that it should be a good campaign tactic to demand that Mr. Fiscal Responsibility tell us what he wants to slice out of the budget to pay for the tax cuts he now favors. And yet, that never works, does it? I mean, it never works. Candidates universally blow smoke when the question is asked, reporters universally decline to insist on an answer, and voters universally shrug their shoulders. Weird, isn’t it? But still true.