The Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold counts six budget “showdowns” in Washington over the past two and half year. The looming battle this fall over funding the government and raising the debt ceiling will be number seven. That led Fahrenthold to examine what the six showdowns have accomplished with regard to the size of government.
In sum: we had big government two and half years ago and today we have…big government.
Some left-leaning pundits are in a tizzy that The Washington Post would dare run an article that doesn’t speak of “draconian” spending cuts to “popular programs.” Instead, Fahrenthold looked at four measures and concluded that little has changed: federal spending is slightly down, the number of federal employees is slightly down, the number of regulations is up, and the federal government still has a lot of real estate.
Fahrenthold’s sin (one of them) is that in pointing out that spending has gone flat after the bipartisan spending explosion of the 2000s he didn’t recognize the alleged virtues of increasing government spending to “stimulate” the economy. I’m guessing Fahrenthold didn’t get the memo that a journalist writing for a mainstream news outlet is supposed to supply a quote from some macroeconomic forecasting Nostradamus like Mark Zandi.
I do wish, however, that Fahrenthold would have explicitly differentiated between the size and scope of government. When it comes to the scope of government activity—basically, what all Uncle Sam does—I don’t know how anyone could argue that it has receded in the past two and a half years. Or the past ten years. Or, well, you get the point.
Does Obamacare represent a reduction the federal government’s scope? How about the NSA’s eavesdropping? Continued subsidies for flights to dinky airports?
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Tad DeHaven is a budget analyst on federal and state budget issues for the Cato Institute.