Reporting on the Bush Budget

In the spirit of Brad DeLong’s course on economics reporting, I noticed this morning that Joel Havemann of the LA Times does a reasonably good job providing some context against which to measure the Bush administration’s budget rhetoric:

Bush Budget Plan Strikes Home, Not Deficit

WASHINGTON — President Bush today will propose a $2.7-trillion budget that would take another slice out of domestic spending next year — but still leave a huge $355-billion deficit.

In Bush’s budget for fiscal year 2007, which begins Oct. 1, the departments of Defense and Homeland Security would continue to grow at a rate greater than inflation.

But most other federal departments, from Agriculture to Veterans Affairs, will be asked to get along next year with less money, and with no allowance for inflation or population growth.

Altogether, Bush’s budget would save $14.5 billion next year by eliminating or sharply curtailing 141 federal programs — fulfilling his vow in last week’s State of the Union address to reduce the costs of what he called “non-security discretionary spending.”

Broken down, those range from a relatively small nick in Medicare’s enormous growth to the virtual elimination of a small program that distributes food to the elderly.

The things that Havemann’s article could have done better are: 1) providing a bit more context to illustrate that the $14.5 billion cut from some discretionary programs, while a lot of money to the programs being cut, is peanuts compared to the huge numbers in the defense budget, entitlements, and the deficit; and 2) pointing out that while the Bush budget does show a halving of the deficit as a percent of GDP by 2009 (though not in dollar terms), the administration’s budget document showing this fall is suspiciously vague about the assumptions it incorporates regarding spending in Iraq and Afghanistan, future tax cuts, and AMT relief. All of these major factors affecting the budget are frequently excluded from Bush administration budget forecasts whenever they are inconvenient to their rhetorical goals.

Those quibbles aside, this is a pretty good piece of reporting, and overall the LA Times continues to generally provide better reporting on the budget and economic issues than you will see from most major news outlets.