Other Voices
Rachel Helm

Back to: Columns
April 5, 2013
Follow Columns

CBO’s real numbers on federal spending

I am writing to question the accuracy of the curious federal budget data that Nancy Eubanks quoted in her article entitled “Fair taxation, economic balance – too much to ask?” published in the March 22, 2013, editorial page. She reported these figures to support her contention that under the current Democratic administration, we do not have a spending problem.

All we need to do, according to Ms. Eubanks, is increase taxation on business and the dastardly rich and all will be well.

Let’s look at each number she quoted.

1. “According to the Congressional Budget Office, government spending as a percentage of GDP is 1.4 percent, the lowest it’s been in 50 years.”

I went through most of the 2013 budget reports on the CBO website, and this is what the CBO actually reports: Actual government outlay for discretionary and non-discretionary spending for 2012 was 22.7 percent of GDP and is projected to be 22.2 percent in 2013. Contrary to what Ms. Eubanks states, these figures do not represent the lowest percentages in 50 years. They in fact exceed the average percentage the CBO calculates based on the past 40 years of budget data. The 2011 budget was even worse. It exceeded 24 percent of GDP. According to the CBO, this was the third-highest figure in the last 40 years.

2. “Current administration government spending is lower than spending under the G.W. Bush, Clinton and Reagan administrations.

Once again, this contention by Ms. Eubanks is wrong. Average government spending during Reagan’s two terms was 22.4 percent, which is lower than government spending during the last two years. Government spending did exceed the average percentage calculated by the CBO during the first half of his administration. This reflects the significant cost of ramping up our military during Reagan’s presidency in a concerted effort to bring down the Soviet empire, which as we all know, was successful. Government spending during the last two years of the Reagan administration was under 22 percent.

Average government spending during the Clinton administration was 19.81 percent, so much lower, not higher than under President Obama. And finally, average government spending as a percentage of GDP under GW Bush was 19.6 percent, also below, not higher than spending under the current administration.

The figures included above came from two Excel workbooks published on the CBO website. The 2011, 2012 and 2013 figures are part of the underlying data for the CBO’s February 2013 Budget Projections. The workbook is entitled 43905-BudgetProjections. The historical data is pulled from the 43904-Historical Budget Data workbook, which is also posted as part of the underlying data for the CBO’s February 2013 Baseline Budget Projections.

Ms. Eubanks, perhaps you would be willing to share with The Union readership which CBO report(s) your figures came from.

I encourage all citizens to peruse the reports the CBO publishes on their website. Certainly one of the most sobering figures reported by the CBO in its Budget and Economic Outlook is: “By 2023 if current laws remain in place, debt will equal 77 percent of GDP and be on an upward path.” Many political analysts believe this to be an overly conservative estimate.

But of course according to Ms. Eubanks, we don’t have a spending problem.

Rachel Helm lives in southern Nevada County.


Explore Related Articles

The Union Updated Apr 6, 2013 10:52AM Published Apr 5, 2013 07:46PM Copyright 2013 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.