COLUMN: Discretionary Spending Is Good Spending, Too

Budget Cuts Here Aren’t Likely to Be Easy or Painless

By Michael EttlingerMichael Linden | March 24, 2010

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Interactive: What Is Non-Defense Discretionary Spending?

The way policymakers of both political parties talk about axing “non-defense discretionary spending” you’d think it involved government payments to the devil himself. The president’s 2011 budget proposes capping “non-security” discretionary spending. The Senate recently barely voted down two different proposals that would have imposed serious cuts. And Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) conservative vision for the budget would impose the most severe cuts of all.

With all this attention on a specific part of the budget, it must be a big slice of the federal spending pie full of programs that nobody likes, have no purpose, and could easily be cut back, right? Wrong. That’s not to say that this type of spending isn’t going to be on the table in these challenging fiscal times—but we shouldn’t kid ourselves that cutting it will be easy, painless or, in most cases, good for the nation.

Non-defense discretionary spending is just 15 percent of the federal budget and yet it funds hundreds of valuable programs and services across a wide range of important areas. Non-defense discretionary programs reach every person in the country through health care research, highway maintenance and construction, airport security, and pollution cleanup, to name just a few. Take a look at our new interactive tool to explore this poorly understood portion of the federal budget and decide for yourself if slashing non-defense discretionary spending is as painless as some would have us believe.

Read the full column

Interactive: What Is Non-Defense Discretionary Spending?

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