Ezra Klein says there’s we shouldn’t act as if defense spending (considered discretionary in the budget) in unable to be cut:

My friend Chris Hayes likes to say that “non-defense discretionary spending” is the most pernicious phrase in Washington. It means, essentially, that there’s spending, which we can cut, and then there’s defense spending, which we cannot cut, and shouldn’t even talk about. Defense spending, however, accounts for about 20 percent of federal dollars. Add in the wars of the past few years and it’s accounted for even more than that. Saying you can’t touch defense spending is like going on a diet but letting the milk industry say that you can’t cut back on dairy.

There aren’t “defense dollars” and then “non-defense dollars.” There are only dollars, and we need to figure out how best to use them.

Hmm… Defense spending is 20% of the budget. And I might find myself in agreement with Klein that perhaps we can defend our nation for a hell of a lot less money than that.

But there’s another distinction here. “Discretionary”. Klein doesn’t ever address the fact that this is an antonym (in the case of a federal budget). There are two types of spending. “Discretionary” and “entitlement”. And entitlement spending is more than twice as large as “non-defense discretionary spending”.

Klein says “there aren’t ‘defense’ and ‘non-defense dollars'” — only dollars. Well, if 42% of our budget is entitlement spending — and that’s a number that’s going to rise significantly with Obamacare — why is it that we should assume that nothing there can or should be cut? You want to put defense spending on the chopping block, Ezra? I’m down with that. I’ll see your proposition and raise you entitlement spending. You ready to call, or are you just bluffing?

  • Akston

    Excellent point!

    Dollars are dollars, spending is spending. When one is bankrupt, all spending should be reviewed and justified.

  • Peter

    I am not an expert or anything, but I thought there was some sort of difference in the budgeting process for “discretionary spending” and “non-discretionary spending”. Perhaps we should look into why the “non-discretionary spending” is so high, and how to lower it?

  • TerryP

    Non-deiscretionary spending or entitlement spending is so high because it is on autopilot. It goes up no matter what. There are no votes in congress each year to vote on the spending unlike the discretionary spending. This is why our economic problems will just get worse with SS, medicare, medicaid and other entitlement programs just on autopilot the spending for these will just keep increasing overtaking everything else and demolishing our economy in the process.

  • http://thelibertypapers.org/ Brad Warbiany

    Agreed with TerryP. “Non-discretionary spending” is basically entitlement spending (medicare, medicaid, social security). This isn’t paid for by appropriations of Congress, but rather pre-determined according to the rules of the plan.

    This doesn’t mean it can’t be changed (i.e. given life expectancy, Congress could mandate a retirement age for SS/Medicare benefits of 72 years instead of the current), but it’s not something that is decided to be spent or not spent on a normal Congressional budget process.