Has Congress Reduced Spending for the Poor?

AB reader Greg W. alerts us to some spin from Brian Riedl of the Heritage Foundation:

During the 2005 budget reconciliation debate, crit¬ics trotted out the tired old myth that Republicans were cutting spending for the poor to pay for tax cuts for the rich. Many commentators accepted this as truth and repeated it, including Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne, who accused the Republicans of passing a “cut-from-the-poor, give-to-the-rich budget.” However, the facts simply do not support these overheated claims. Rather than reduce entitlement spending, the budget reconciliation bill merely reduced its projected five-year growth rate from 39 percent to 38 percent. Furthermore, the “additional” tax cuts were nearly all extensions of existing tax pro¬visions that would soon have expired.

What Riedl has put together is his own spin. Most of his document addresses the distribution of the tax burden rather than spending – with the same old rightwing twists and turns to this issue. On spending – what he notes is that in five years, the absolute level of nominal entitlement spending is projected to be 38% higher than it is today. I can think of three ways his summary statistic misses the point raised by E. J. Dionne. One is that much of entitlement spending is in the form of Social Security and Medicare payments, which will now include that prescription drug benefit. The other two have to do with inflation and population growth.

Richard Kogan understands these basic concepts and writes:

Congress completed action on appropriations bills for fiscal year 2006 on December 21, after imposing a one-percent across-the-board cut on all funding except that for veterans or emergencies. The one-percent cut is in addition to the specific reductions or increases otherwise provided by the 2006 bills.During debates on the appropriations bills, many Members of Congress appeared to labor under the impression that funding for domestic discretionary programs had exploded in recent years. This impression seems to stem, at least in part, from releases issued by conservative groups charging that the federal government has been on a “spending spree” and that domestic programs, rather than defense and anti-terrorism spending, have been the main culprit. These releases were seriously misleading … Between fiscal years 2001 and 2006, funding for domestic discretionary programs shrank relative to the economy, falling from 3.36 percent of Gross Domestic Product to 3.13 percent. Over the same period, real per capita funding for domestic discretionary programs (i.e., funding adjusted for inflation and population growth) grew by only two percent.

While Kogan’s analysis of spending undercuts the spin from Riedl, I would still like to see some specifics as to what Max Sawicky has dubbed large cuts in small programs and the impact on the types of individuals E. J. Dionne was writing about.