Numbers Don’t Lie, But Columnists (Make Them Tell Silly, Untrue Narratives)

The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent just came out with a piece that purports to show how unreasonable the Republican position on recent spending debates is. He uses the following graph, courtesy of the Progressive Caucus, to prove his point:

Image via Washington Post

He explains further:

Even if the parties reach a deal in the third round of deficit reduction to avert the sequester with something approaching an equivalent sum of spending cuts and new revenues, the overall deficit reduction balance would still be heavily lopsided towards Republicans.

Allow me to paraphrase Matt Welch: using one chart to draw a conclusion about even a slightly complex issue is stupid. If Sargent were to use this as the basis if a conditional-laden, skeptical opinion, I’d be fine with it. That’s not quite what he did here. And in the process, he ignores some crucial context:

-“Spending cuts” aren’t cuts as we’d think of them. They’re reductions in the rate of spending growth. The budget will not be $1.7 trillion smaller at the end of these “cuts”. Rather, we are adding $1.7 trillion less than we’d initially planned on.

-If the sequester were to take place, here’s what the budget would look like:

Image via Daniel J. Mitchell

-Federal spending as a percentage of GDP has skyrocketed since 2009. The GOP may have “won” the last few rounds, but they’ve only done so after surrendering more spending than we’ve ever seen before:


Image from author using OMB data (click to enlarge)

So I happen to disagree with Sargent here. Looking at the top chart in isolation, you might be led to think that Democrats have made generous spending concessions. A perusal of other facts should at least lead you to question this hypothesis, even if you don’t fully agree with me.

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