SMALL GOVERNMENT….Yesterday I suggested that most federal programs weren’t growing quite like the weeds conservatives make them out to be. Absolute dollar spending is going up, of course, thanks to inflation and an increasing population, but most social welfare programs have actually been cut back recently in terms of the benefits paid out.

But most conservatives think that’s not enough. They want government cut back even further ? or so they say, anyway. So here’s a quick summary of the 2002 federal budget:



National Defense

$362 billion


$170 billion

Social Security

$462 billion


$234 billion

Social Welfare

$367 billion


$495 billion


$2,090 billion

(An Excel spreadsheet is here if you’re interested in seeing the nitty gritty details of where all your hard earned dough goes.)

Now, conservatives don’t seem to want to cut defense spending, and interest payments are of course inviolate. What’s more, the “Other” category consists of lots and lots of little programs like prisons, courts, embassies, disaster relief, and so forth. There certainly might be things you’d like to cut there ? crop subsidies are a favorite target ? but let’s face it: it’s hard to get any traction here. Most of the programs are fairly routine, most of them are fairly popular, and you’d have to cut a helluva lot of them to make much of a dent. You can probably find some savings here, but the political reality is that you can’t find very much.

No, if you’re serious about wanting to cut back on federal spending, you need to address three areas: Social Security, Medicare, and welfare programs. So here’s my question: what do you want to cut back? A dollar figure would be nice, but what I really want to know is what program benefits you want to cut.

Means testing for Social Security? Higher retirement ages? Reduced nursing home coverage? Elimination of free clinics in inner cities? Elimination of entire programs? And no cheating: don’t pretend that you can magically save oodles of money by simply cutting back on “waste.” That’s a great applause line on the rubber chicken circuit, but it won’t wash here. I want real program cuts.

If you want to lower taxes, fine. But you have to reduce spending too, and conservatives have been allowed for far too long to complain endlessly about big government without having to step up to the plate and tell us exactly what they want to cut back. So have at it. Then we can all take a look at your proposals and decide if they’re worth it.