The New York Times has translated President Obama’s 2011 budget into an interactive graphic that shows at a glance where our money’s going. With totals of $738 billion each, National Defense and Social Security account for one-third of the block. Medicare ($498 billion) and Income Security ($560 billion) dominate the middle section.

Color-coding identifies areas where spending is projected to either rise or fall. A projected drop in income security programs (unemployment, food stamps, etc) and grants to state Medicaid program suggests that the administration expects that the need for such programs will drop as the economy improves, and/or Congress won’t approve another stimulus package with additional funding for these benefits.

Perhaps the most important lesson from this graphic comes when you click on the “Hide Mandatory Spending” button.

Suddenly, there’s lots of white space, and the largest block of color is the huge National Defense square, which many elected officials seem to consider untouchable (though they shouldn’t). The remaining budget segments cover what looks to be less than one-fourth of the total area. This is the part of the budget that will be subject to President Obama’s proposed spending freeze.

If we want to shrink our total expenditures, we have to do something about healthcare spending. According to this graphic, Medicare and Medicaid together account for $853 billion, and their share of the total budget will continue to swell as long as healthcare costs continue to rise at the rate we’ve come to expect.

The smart way to tackle our national budget woes would be to enact healthcare legislation that will reduce the rate of growth in healthcare spending. The bills passed by the House and Senate both take steps toward doing just that, but their fate is uncertain now that Congress has gone cowardly. (The House can and should simply pass the Senate’s legislation, which would obviate the need for another Senate vote.)

Instead of trying to teach voters a valuable lesson about the role of healthcare spending in the budget, the president has chosen an impressive-sounding but far less effective proposal of a spending freeze. A quick look at the NYT budget graphic (go visit it now!) shows what a wrongheaded decision it is.

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