Spending Rise Has Much To Do With Policy

  • The running debate between Paul Krugman and me is bringing more facts to bear on important budget and policy issues. Since I wrote my reply yesterday to Krugman’s criticism of my Wall Street Journal article, he has responded three times, with Taylor Digs Deeper, 2021 and All That, and One More Point about 2021.
  • Krugman now admits that spending as a share of GDP would rise from 19.6 percent of GDP in 2007 to around 24 percent in 2021 under the budget proposed by the Administration on February 14, which is what I showed in my original graph.
  • And since spending averages around 24 percent of GDP in 2009-2011, this confirms my point that “Mr. Obama, in his budget submitted in February, proposed to make that spending binge permanent.” Krugman also reports some of the components of the rise in entitlement spending, showing that Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid spending rise as a share of GDP under Obama’s proposal.
  • But Krugman now argues that “the great bulk of this projected rise has nothing whatsoever to do with Obama’s policies.” This is wrong on two accounts.
  • First, in proposing his February 14 budget, Obama chose policies that did not control the growth of spending by enough to prevent an increase in spending as a share of GDP, even though he could have chosen such policies. In fact, the policies he chose for his second budget on April 13 did impose such controls including “setting a more ambitious target of holding Medicare cost growth per beneficiary to GDP per capita plus 0.5 percent beginning in 2018” (White House Fact Sheet April 13). These recent spending controls were proposed after the House budget proposal was put forth, and they take spending in the direction proposed by the House. That Obama’s second budget has lower spending than the first demonstrates that the rate of spending increase has very much to do with Obama’s policies.
  • Second, the Obama budget does propose new spending programs, including the new health care law. And there is a step increase in entitlement spending as a share of GDP in 2009-2011 which goes beyond what would be expected from the recession, and spending remains at the higher level through 2021. If demographic changes were the only reason for the increase in spending as a share of GDP, then you would not see such a step increase.
  • In the latest post on this subject, Krugman expands his criticism to include Senators Corker and McCaskill. Here Krugman admits that the rate of increase in government spending is affected by Obama’s policies, but he now gives reasons “why federal spending shouldn’t stay at or near the share of GDP it was at in 2007” arguing that Obama should not choose such policies. I disagree. Even with current demographic projections it is possible to institute good reforms which keep Medicare and Medicaid from rising so rapidly as a share of GDP and also deliver better health care services. And of course it is possible also to reduce other types of spending as a share of GDP, including national defense.
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