Apr. 21st, 2009 08:55 am:
Tea Party Day

Last April 15th was Tea Party Day. And while I understand the anger over being "fed up with a Congress and a president who" ... I've got one glib and one not-so-glib item to say about this.

First, the glib. The original tea party was successful because raiders stole bales of the King's tea and dumped it into public waterways thus depriving him of his taxes. Dumping your own legally purchased and taxed tea into public waterways contributes to the king's tax base, and misses the whole point of both "tea" and "party". Not to mention that the original tea party was a protest of lower taxes that their representatives didn't get to vote on, which is the exact opposite of our supposedly higher taxes that they did. And I don't even know what to begin to say about faxing pictures of tea.

Second, the not-so-glib. A "$500 billion tax bill", "spending trillions of borrowed dollars", or "giving special interest groups billions of dollars in earmarks" is nothing to sniff at but don't miss the forest for the trees. Of the $1182bn Federal discretionary budget, the Department of Defense gets $515bn, or about half. That doesn't count the separately itemized $189bn Global War On Terror, the $44.7bn Department of Veterans Affairs, the $37.6bn Department of Homeland Security, or the $16bn military portion of the Department of Energy's budget. The total for defense spending comes to $803bn, or 68% of federal discretionary expenses.

The two biggest non-military, non-defense piece of the discretionary pie are the $63bn Department of Transportation - roads, bridges, and highways mostly - and the $68bn Department of Health and Human Services which supports the NIH and CDC. Do you like to drive, fly, or purchase products which are transported to you? Do you like not getting smallpox or polio? I thought so. The other big socialist heavy hitters that "take your wealth and redistribute it to others" are the $59bn Department of Education, $38bn Department of Housing and Urban Development, the $10.5bn Department of Labor, and the $9.6bn Army Corps of Engineers all of whom may, at some point, provide a socialist service to someone in America who is not directly billed for that service. The total for "socialist" spending comes to $250bn, or 21% of federal discretionary spending.

In short: For every dollar the Pentagon gets, the "socialists" get 31 cents, with another 16 cents for "overhead" to run everything from the State Department and Congress to the Post Office. Want to reduce your tax burden? Want to reduce federal discretionary spending? Blame the war hawks first. (Numbers here.)

Of course that's just discretionary spending. The $1182bn that we get to choose how to spend this year, not the total $3.2tn that we've previously committed. And the biggest single piece of that (35.8%) is - again - national "defense". Second biggest is social security (20%), medicare (12.6%), and medicaid (6.6%) which sum to a little over a third (39%) of the total federal budget. If you'd like to run your party on the platform of shutting down medicare and social security you are welcome to do so, but please do so openly and honestly. Don't pretend that it's the fault of earmarks, pork, Democrats, Obama, illegal immigration, or any of your conventional bogeymen. And don't pretend that federal spending is "skyrocketing", either. Federal spending has remained around 25% of GDP regardless of party since the 1970s, with the increasing cost and percentage of health care being the most significantly changing variable.

Or blame George Bush. Just four expenditures which can be directly attributed to him - Global War on Terror, Department of Homeland Security, No Child Left Behind, and medical care at the Department of Veterans Affairs total to $293bn. That's $40bn more than all 'socialist' programs put together, not even counting the $534bn non-discretionary prescription drug entitlement.

See also: Where Do Our Federal Tax Dollars Go? by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.


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