Climbing the Fiscal Mountain

Note: Guest blogger Lewis Warne, an NCPA research associate, gives his thoughts on the fiscal cliff…or is it a mountain?

The fiscal cliff looms ahead, but the fall is so far only because we blindly walked up a mountain of spending.

Over the past 30 years there has been a severe lack of fiscal foresight and responsibility from our elected representatives in Washington. The broad strokes of the responsibility deficit can be seen in the budget deficit; there have been only 4 years of surplus since 1980. However each deficit is made up of spending programs running wild on the slopes. Below you can see a few of the worst offenders and their size relative to 1980:


Medicare spending has increased from $32 billion in 1980 to $485 Billion in 2011 — a 1,513 percent increase! The spending explosion can be attributed to an increase in enrollment, rising medical prices, and expanded benefits. Despite the almost exponential cost increase, Medicare reform is

appears to be off

the table for fiscal cliff negotiations.

Interest on treasury debt is up 606 percent, from $74 billion to $453 billion. Interest on the debt is a result of previous irresponsibility and will continue to burden the United States even in times of surplus.

Defense spending grew 517 percent, from $130 billion to $678 billion. The Cold War, Afghanistan, Iraq, and an abundance of smaller conflicts have bloated military spending.

Social Security expanded 690 percent, from $86 billion to $597 billion. The recent recession forced the safety net to catch many people; in fact over one third of the increase occurred in the last 4 years. However spending is still extraordinarily high, despite a small decrease in 2011.

During this period revenue grew only 445 percent, from $517 billion to $2.3 trillion. Each of these four expenses grew faster than revenue! Cumulatively these four programs cost $2.2 trillion and cost 96 percent of revenue.

Negligence has ruled in Washington for many years now, and spending has been its marching orders. Continuing on the current path will walk us over the cliff, and the fall will hurt.

Comments (4)

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  1. Dr. James Franco says:

    Great post depicting how far out of control medicare spending is. While my Ph.D is in Aerospace Engineering, I can still see the serious nature that this problem poses and I’m going to do my best to refrain from making a Soylent Green or Logan’s Run joke.

    Good work, Lewis! Very thorough!

  2. Joe Barnett says:

    Are these dollar figures adjusted for inflation?

  3. Pam says:

    Joe,the cumulative inflation from 1980 to 2011 was 190 percent, so all of these government spending growth rates outpaced inflation.

  4. Kyle says:

    Think about this the next time one of those public education broadcasts warns the American people about the dangers of leveraging themselves to sustain a certain lifestyle.

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