Why Is This a Good Thing?

February 17th, 2012 at 3:24 pm

I know it’s not going anywhere legislatively, but I have still written in praise of the President’s budget.  I like the way it balances the need for temporary stimulus now and deficit reduction later.  And, broadly speaking, I like the way it balances revenue increases and spending cuts to generate deficit savings.

But I’m nervous about the hit to non-security discretionary spending, or NSD.  For a while, the White House has touted that their budgets bring NSD spending as a share of GDP down to levels not seen since the Eisenhower administration.

And whenever I hear that, I ask myself—why is that good?

Source: President’s FY13 Budget

First, why would you expect that to resonate with people?  No one knows what NSD is (and there’s probably a lot of people who don’t recognize Eisenhower either).  I guess it’s just that “we’re-cutting-something-a-lot” that is supposed to make people feel better.  And maybe it does.

But I do know what NSD is and, again, it makes me nervous.  Over to EPI’s Ethan Pollack:

Despite accounting for only about 15 percent of federal expenditure, it includes some pretty important government functions. Half of the non-security discretionary budget accounts for the entirety of the federal government’s role in economic development, consumer protection, public safety, environmental protection, as well as portions of the safety net. The other half is made up of vital public investments in infrastructure, education, and research and development, which are necessary to keep the economy strong and globally competitive for decades to come. In fact, the non-security discretionary budget is practically the sole provider of these investments, with few existing elsewhere in the budget.

I’d only add, as the NYT editorial board stresses here, that services like early education (NSD includes Head Start, e.g.), Pell Grants, and job training for the least advantaged are precisely the mobility enhancers we need in a climate of higher inequality and reduced opportunity.

I understand that to a lot of people cutting government spending always sounds good.  It sounds even better to cut it to the “lowest level since the Eisenhower administration.”  But things aren’t always as good as they sound and this doesn’t sound good to me.

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3 comments in reply to "Why Is This a Good Thing?"

  1. Michael says:

    Because Obama is a conservative, and he thinks we are, too.


  2. Nick Estes says:

    Cutting NSD so much is terrible. The reason Obama is doing it is that he is afraid to let the Bush tax cuts expire for anyone but the $250k + crowd. If we at least extended this down to say $150,000, we could considerably mitigate the hit to scientific research, aid to education, national parks, etc., etc.


  3. dougfir says:

    The only reason Obama is proposing this budget is he knows only a budget that cuts “stuff” will stands any chance of getting past the “oppose anything the Democrat proposes” party that does not control Congress but does have enough votes to bottle up legislation.


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