The Bars Go Up, Spending Goes Down

| Mon Aug. 1, 2011 4:27 PM EDT

This chart has been making the rounds today. It's from Cato's Chris Edwards, who's pretty unhappy about the proposed spending cap in the debt ceiling deal:

Wait a minute, those bars are rising! Spending isn’t being cut at all. The “cuts” in the deal are only cuts from the CBO “baseline,” which is a Washington construct of ever-rising spending....No program or agency terminations are identified in the deal. None of the vast armada of federal subsidies are targeted for elimination. Old folks will continue to gorge themselves on inflated benefits paid for by young families and future generations.

Well, yeah, I guess that's right. The plan doesn't eliminate either the Education Department or Social Security. Still, just do a bit of arithmetic on those spending levels: they amount to an increase of 1.9% per year. That's almost certainly well below the future rate of inflation and population growth. If we actually stick to these caps, they represent a steady and consistent decrease in real per-capita spending, and that's the only fair way to look at it.

Per my last post, I suppose I should be gleefully reprinting this chart and agreeing with Edwards that the tea party got rolled on this deal. But I guess I don't have it in me. Looked at honestly, this represents a decrease in spending. It just does.

(But will these caps actually hold together in future years? Who knows. That's a fairer criticism, though I don't really know what more you could do to enforce them than the deal already does.)