Back To 1948: Ryan’s Fantasy Budget Cuts Spending To Its Lowest Level In 65 Years

Over at, Jed Graham ran the numbers on Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) new budget for the House GOP, and found that by 2023, it would drive all government spending that isn’t either Social Security or interest on the debt to its lowest level since 1948. On every other occasion in the last 60 years that this category of spending dipped that low, unemployment was never over 4.5 percent — it’s currently at 7.7 percent.

Graham found, “the entirety of federal spending outside of Social Security and interest on the debt (16.4 percent of GDP in 2012) would shrink to 11.2 percent of GDP” by 2023, “a level not seen since 1948.” In fact, the situation is even worse, since in 1948 this spending did not yet include “ObamaCare, Medicare, Medicaid, NASA, the interstate highway system” or a host of other needed programs now in operation:

In fact, if Medicare is discounted as well as Social Security and interest payments, spending shrinks to 7.9 percent in 2023, the lowest levels for that slice since 1938.

This is tiresome and grossly irresponsible, but hardly surprising. Ryan’s previous budget would’ve shoved non-defense discretionary spending — which includes most of the government’s investments in economic growth, veterans’ health care, food safety, drug safety, consumer product safety, federal law enforcement, and more — to 2.1 percent of GDP. Since 1962, the first year for which we have comprehensive data, non-defense discretionary spending has never dropped below 3.2 percent of spending.


Nonetheless, Ryan’s latest budget once again aims for the 2.1 percent mark by 2023, leading Michael Linden at the Center for American Progress to dismiss it as fantasy. “[I]t’s is far easier to ‘cut’ the nebulous category called ‘nondefense discretionary’ than it is to cut actual programs, benefits, and protections that the public knows and likes,” Linden writes. “But in fact, for these kinds of cuts to actually come to pass, Congress — now and in the future — will have to get specific. And if they decide that they can’t, in reality, reduce these things to levels unheard of in generations, then Rep. Ryan’s claim to a balanced budget falls apart.”

Sure enough, American voters only support cutting spending when it’s vaguely referred to as “spending.” Name specific programs, and public support for cutting them utterly collapses.