Discretionary Spending Watch

DISCRETIONARY SPENDING WATCH….Has domestic discretionary spending really skyrocketed on George Bush’s watch? John Cogan and Glenn Hubbard say yes, and they have a chart to prove it — but they measure spending in dollars, not percent of GDP, which is pretty plainly the only proper way to do it. Why? Cogan, a professor in the Public Policy Program at Stanford University, says he simply didn’t have time to find the GDP-based figures*, a claim that Ross Douthat finds preposterous. Both Matt Yglesias and Brad DeLong agree, and then pile on with some charts and figures of their own which show pretty clearly just how hard Cogan and Hubbard are pushing the BS envelope here. Not only hasn’t domestic discretionary spending skyrocketed under Bush, it’s actually gone down.

But it’s worth taking a closer look at the numbers to see what really happened. As the chart on the right (stolen from this CRS report) shows, during Bush’s first term domestic discretionary spending did go up dramatically. If you add in the Medicare prescription bill it went up even more — and this caused more than a few small-government conservatives at the time to erupt in frustration. But this had a simple explanation: it was a bribe. After 2004, when Bush no longer had to worry about getting reelected, he suddenly decided to put the screws on the public. Compassion was no longer in style.

Basically, this gibes with Larry Bartels’ finding that Republicans are way better than Democrats at manipulating economic and fiscal policies for maximum electoral benefit. They may not be very good at actually running the country, but they do know how to keep their eyes on the prize. Caveat emptor.

*Turns out it wasn’t Cogan who didn’t have time to find the figures. It was Peter Robinson.