It's all healthcare, baby. If all of the pressure on the deficit were being applied to serious proposals for reining in healthcare spending, in an effort to get U.S. spending levels down to those prevailing in socialist Europe, I'd probably applaud.
So the solution to the deficit is all about healthcare. You can see similar arguments popping up all over the left blogosphere. Mostly, as in this case, these are arguments for universal health care but leave that aside. The point is that they represent a fallacy, the fallacy that if A is the cause of a problem then a change in A must be the solution. Certainly we can look at changing A (health care) but there's no particular reason that changes in A must be the answer.
To make the point, let's take a look at taxes and spending relative to 2000 (the last time the budget was balanced). I'm going to look at this in two ways. First, I'm going to look at effective tax rates across the income distribution (similar to my previous post comparing to 1979). Using the same TPC and CBO assessments, one gets the following picture.
By the Kevin Drum logic, I should therefore cut the tax rates of the top 1% and increase the tax rates of everyone else since that would be the way to correct the problem by addressing the changes that led to the problem in the first place. I rather doubt that Mr. Drum or his intellectual comrades would be in favor of this approach.
We can of course extend this thinking by looking at the spending side of the equation. In 2000, spending on domestic discretionary programs was 3.0 percent of GDP. In 2011 (2012 is not yet available), these same programs consumed 4.3% of GDP. Should we therefore cut these programs by 30% in nominal dollars? I rather doubt this is the plan that would be embraced by Mr. Drum. Indeed we know this is not the case since "It's all healthcare, baby."
The point here is not to argue that addressing healthcare isn't an important part of our long term deficit picture but rather to argue the fact that healthcare spending has increased and will continue to do so does not imply that the only (or primary) solution is to reduce or slow the rate of growth of health care spending. The prescription may or may not be right, the logic is not.