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March 16, 2011

Another grim milestone for federal spending

Total federal spending has consistently outpaced tax receipts for so long that to even raise the point tends to elicit yawns. 

However, as the Weekly Standard reports today, this year brings us to a milestone without precedent:
We have now gotten to the point — as I noted yesterday — where if national defense, interstate highways, national parks, homeland security, and all other discretionary programs somehow became absolutely free, we’d still have a budget deficit. The White House Office of Management and Budget projects that in the current fiscal year (2011), mandatory spending alone will exceed all federal receipts. So even if we didn’t spend a single cent on discretionary programs, we still wouldn’t be able to balance our budget this year — let alone pay off any of the $14 trillion in debt that we have already accumulated.

Just an Olympiad ago, in 2007, the picture was quite different. In fact, in that year, federal revenues not only exceeded mandatory spending, but they exceeded it by more than $1 trillion ($1.117 trillion, to be more exact). The next year, 2008, during which the gap fell to a still-huge $914 billion, the Bush administration released a report issuing a rather dire warning (p. 25).  The report said that, “if left unchanged, mandatory spending alone is projected to exceed total projected Government receipts in approximately 50 years.”  That dire prediction has now come true — about 50 years earlier than projected.
This bears repeating: Even if we brought discretionary spending to $0.00 this year, there still would not be enough tax receipts to fund the mandatory (in other words, entitlement, or wealth-transfer) spending programs.

This problem goes much, much deeper than the extension of the Bush-era tax cuts.  As Kevin D. Williamson observed in NRO on March 14, there aren’t enough millionaires out there to balance the budget.  Even if  all of the income of “the rich” was simply confiscated, the debt would continue to grow.

The Bush administration might be forgiven for being so far off on its projection… truly, this country has never before seen anything like the profligacy of this administration and its allies in Congress.

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