Americans are clamoring for a fact-based debate about the budget, but the numbers they're hearing from Washington are terribly confusing. Here's an example: Speaking at a Facebook town hall meeting here on Wednesday, President Obama sometimes talked about saving $4 trillion, at other times $2 trillion, and he varied whether it was over 10 years or 12 years, never mentioning any one year. A simple chart, like the one nearby, would greatly clarify the debate. It shows total federal government spending year-by-year for the two decades starting in the year 2000. Spending is shown as a percentage of GDP, which is a sensible and quite common way to assess trends: When the percentage rises, government spending rises relative to total income or total goods and services produced in our economy. For the past decade, the chart shows the recent history of government spending. For the next decade—the window for the current budget—it shows three different spending visions for the future.
(photo credit: White House Photo by Pete Souza)