Yesterday, I praised The Washington Post’s Wonkblog for its coverage of Rep. Paul Ryan’s latest budget proposal. But revealing insights on the Ryan budget plan also showed up in Wednesday on the website of Investor’s Business Daily—a publication that is more often cited around here for peddling kooky views or being careless with facts.

Reporter Jed Graham did a bit of analysis of the Ryan plan and pulled out a striking statistic that underscores just how radical the proposal is with respect to much of the federal budget. Graham wrote:

By 2023, under Paul Ryan’s budget, the entirety of federal spending outside of Social Security and interest on the debt (16.4% of GDP in 2012) would shrink to 11.2% of GDP, a level not seen since 1948—before ObamaCare, Medicare, Medicaid, NASA, the interstate highway system and almost before the first baby boomers were born.

The upshot, Graham explained, is that “Republicans offering a diagnosis that ‘spending is the problem’ have gone beyond what might arguably be called right-sizing to major downsizing.”

He also gave the IBD art department the data points to make this revealing graphic (IBD is very good at graphics, stock tables, and text that clearly reveal relationships between numbers):


Graham’s brief, to-the-point post concludes by noting that if Medicare is also excluded, then “noninterest spending under the Ryan plan would fall from 12% of GDP in 2012 to 7.9% in 2023—by far the lowest level since 1931, in the days before Social Security and Medicare existed.”

Two good lessons can be gleaned from Graham’s post. The first is that reporters should read and independently analyze the documents they write about, not just quote the talking points. Second, historical perspective imbues news reports with meaning.

The downside? Just like much of Wonkblog’s output, Graham’s smart work doesn’t show up in the print publication.

 

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David Cay Johnston covers fiscal and budget matters for CJR’s United States Project. He is a reporter with 46 years of experience, including 13 at The New York Times; a columnist for Tax Analysts; teaches tax and regulatory law at Syracuse University Law School; and is president of Investigative Reporters & Editors (IRE). Follow him on Twitter @DavidCayJ.