Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Where's Peter Beinart?

From the National Center's senior policy analyst, Dr. David Hogberg:
As you may recall from this blog post, I took Peter Beinart of The New Republic to task for using misleading budget numbers from this report by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). I emailed Beinart about this and, as of this posting, he has not responded.

To recap: Beinart claimed that, based on CBPP numbers, discretionary non-security related spending rose only 2% between 2001-2006 when accounting for inflation and population growth and actually fell as a percentage of GDP.

As I saw it, a problem with Beinart's thesis arises in that the CBPP uses budget authority numbers, which are only the spending that Congress authorizes. What Congress actually spends is called budget outlays, and when those numbers are calculated, spending did increase a total of 13% and also rose as a percentage of GDP, from 3.1% to 3.6%.

Since Peter Beinart did not reply to my e-mail, I contacted Brian Riedl, a budget expert at the Heritage Foundation, about this. Brian confirmed my belief that outlays are the proper numbers to use:
...that's where the rubber meets the road on spending. Outlays represent what taxpayers are actually paying for. Budget authority can and often is easily manipulated by Congress to count or not count certain spending at certain times.
So, Peter, where are you? The question remains as it was in the email I sent: When talking about spending, shouldn't we be talking about what Congress actually spent instead of what it authorized?
Addendum: I note that Ari Berman, writing on the Nation's website six days after David Hogberg first alerted The New Republic to what appears to us to be an error, says:
I often disagree with TNR's Peter Beinart. But his latest essay, debunking the myth that George W. Bush isn't really a conservative, is dead on.
I wonder if he'd still think this if the New Republic had issued a correction to Peter Beinart's assertion that discretionary, nonsecurity-related federal spending as a percentage of GDP actually fell during the Bush years.

Any essayist can make an honest mistake. People can respect a publication secure and honest enough to issue corrections when warranted.

Addendum. 10/26/06: Noel Shepherd, writing at, says Peter Beinart is not the only one at the New Republic using fuzzy math to make points about federal taxing and spending.

Posted by Amy Ridenour at 2:46 AM

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