Fair and Square: NDD Spending to Historic Lows

As I’ve blogged about before, the President’s Budget brings non-defense discretionary spending (NDD) down to its lowest level as share of GDP since 1962.  This is accomplished by finding places to cut, eliminating redundancies, and wringing efficiencies out of government functions.

Recently, some have charged that we’re playing games with this NDD statistic – that we achieve these historical lows largely because we have proposed to convert the Pell grant program for college students from a "discretionary" program to a "mandatory" one, and thereby exclude it from NDD.  These critics claim we are comparing historical NDD levels with Pell to our proposed NDD spending without Pell. And that would indeed be an unfair comparison if that’s what we were doing. But it’s not. 

The Budget does propose to make Pell a mandatory program – because that would put the Pell program on firmer financial footing and thereby help encourage more students to aspire to college. (My reading of the evidence is that clarity and simplicity surrounding financial assistance can be just as important in boosting enrollment – if not more so – than the amount of such assistance.) 

In undertaking our analysis of NDD spending, though, we adjusted the historical Pell numbers so that we were comparing "apples to apples."  For purposes of historical comparison, we treated Pell as if it had always been a mandatory program.  In other words, we removed expenditures on Pell for all prior years from our computation of historical NDD numbers so that they did not appear artificially inflated as compared to our Budget’s NDD numbers.

The bottom line is: The President’s Budget holds NDD spending to historic lows fair and square.

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