Can we get real? For starters, $642 billion is serious money, and despite the modest improvements of the latest CBO report, the basic trends in federal finances remain the same. From 2014 to 2023, the government will spend $6 trillion more than it collects in taxes. The budget never comes close to balancing. Expanding spending on the elderly and health care continues to strangle the rest of government. As a share of the economy (gross domestic product), military and domestic discretionary programs (examples: drug approval, environmental regulation, Head Start, federal courts) drop about 40 percent from 2010 to 2023.
Nothing of consequence has changed. A few numbers have shifted slightly. That’s all. They moved in a favorable direction. Next time, they might go the other way. What’s also constant is the unwillingness of leaders of both parties, beginning with the president, to discuss budget choices candidly. The budget passed by the Democratic Senate barely touches entitlements for the elderly, which constitute the largest chunk of federal spending. The budget passed by the Republican House avoids a large tax increase only by making draconian and unrealistic spending cuts that would never pass Congress or be signed by the president.