Fear of Clowns

"Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable."
- H. L. Mencken

Saturday, February 05, 2005

4 percent optimistic cowboys, 96 percent shysters 

While reading the following, keep in mind that there is one man who can alone limit discretionary spending: the president. Government cannot spend a single discretionary dime without his signature.

And my point of view I make in Washington, and that I want you to help me on is, we can meet priorities: we can fund education and good conservation programs; we can fulfill our commitment to the elderly; we can make Social Security is safe and secure today and around tomorrow for the younger folks. We can do all that -- (applause) -- by growing the discretionary account at 4 percent and still have meaningful tax reductions.
August 21, 2001

To achieve these great national objectives -- to win the war, protect the homeland, and revitalize our economy -- our budget will run a deficit that will be small and short-term, so long as Congress restrains spending and acts in a fiscally responsible manner. (Applause.)
January 29, 2002

I will send you a budget that increases discretionary spending by 4 percent next year -- about as much as the average family's income is expected to grow. And that is a good benchmark for us. Federal spending should not rise any faster than the paychecks of American families. (Applause.) January 28, 2003

I have proposed a 4-percent increase in discretionary spending for this year's budget. It's about equal to the increase of the average family budget. If it's good enough for American families, it ought to be good enough for the appetite of some of the congressmen.

January 20, 2004

It's also interesting to note that the (Applause) from the above quotes are from Congress - the quotes were taken from State of the Union addresses. So our entire body of elected officials are applauding keeping spending down. But nobody does it.

The "4 percent increase" mantra has been repeated and repeated and repeated again. Let's look at the White House's Office of Management and Budget's data to see how effective they've been (Excel spreadsheet hist08z7.xls).

  2001 2002 2003 [2004 estimate] [2005 estimate]
Discretionary spending
(in $millions)
649,326 734,328 825,705 908182 914000
% increase -- 15% 14% 10% 0.06%
(I'll believe the estimate when
I see the actual numbers)

The "4% mantra" has persisted throughout the two wars - defense spending is included in "discretionary spending". Even assuming they inaccurately mean "non-defense discretionary spending" when they say "discretionary spending",l their record is dismal:

  2001 2002 2003 [2004 estimate] [2005 estimate]
Discretionary spending (non-defense)
(in $millions)
343,258 385,383 420,759 456,585 465,803
% increase -- 12% 9% 10% 2%
(I'll believe the estimate when
I see the actual numbers)

So they've failed horribly. My skepticism about their "estimates" is not based solely on a lack of faith, rather it's mostly based on their horrid track record for estimating economic and financial data: their projected budget deficits, projected job growth, cost of the Iraq war. There are only two possibilities: they are incompetent or being intentionally deceptive. Given that the White House has tremendous resources for making these types of projections and their consistently overly optimistic projections, I favor the latter possibility.

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