Political Animal


February 23, 2012 5:07 PM Not a Detail Man

By Ed Kilgore

Good catch by Josh Marshall on Newt Gingrich’s breezy statement during last night’s presidential candidate debate that civil service reform could save the federal government “a minimum of $500 billion a year.”

That sounded pretty crazy to me since that’s like 15% of the entire federal government. And the vast majority of federal spending goes to the military and transfer payments like Social Security and Medicare.
Well, we looked into it and it turns out that the federal government’s entire payroll, even including the military, came to just $432.6 billion in fiscal 2011. In other words, if you fired everyone who works for the federal government you couldn’t save $500 billion.
Our requests for comment from the Newt campaign have yet to be returned.

But then we know Newt Gingrich is a big-picture kinda guy who can’t much be troubled with getting the facts straight. He might have been within a few hundred billion of the right figure.

It reminds me of the story about Will Rogers’ suggestion, at the height of the German U-Boat campaign on Atlantic shipping during World War I, that the problem could be solved simply by draining the ocean. Asked how that feat could be accomplished, Rogers replied: “That is a detail, and I am not a detail man.”

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • kevo on February 23, 2012 5:20 PM:

    From what I've witnessed so far, Newt Gingrich is running a presidential campaign Joe McCarthy would be highly proud of!

    Gingrich gem of the week so far? Why, President Obama is the greatest danger to our nation! WTF Nootie - you oxymoronic dolt!

    A duly President the most dangerous to our nation? How about the remnants and ashes from the previous president who was initally appointed by the SCOTUS in 2000, and used a most McCarthy like campaign in 2004 to secure a reelection bid? Haven't we just passed through dangerous times sponsored by the madness of Bush/Cheney? I think so! -Kevo

  • Peter C on February 23, 2012 5:22 PM:

    Yet, Newt WOULD fire all federal workers if he could. He'd 'privatize' any part of government he could get his hands on. That way, his cronies would get 'contracts' to provide the labor that those workers do. And these cronies would take a cut and hire only minimally qualified workers (who would get minimumal benefits). That's what Republicans DO; they gut government and funnel tax money to themselves.

  • T2 on February 23, 2012 5:27 PM:

    the fact that Newt Gingrich is actually being treated like a potential president of the USA is beyond laughable. But he can because instead of seeing CBS, ABC and NBC lead with Josh Marshall's story, they'll say nothing. And the millions of rubes that watched the Liefest last night will be at the water cooler today telling their "liberal" office mates how great an idea Newt has. And if that water cooler happens to sit in any Federal Office Building, they probably won't even realize Gingrich is talking about canning all of them.

  • Peter M on February 23, 2012 5:34 PM:

    I think Will Rogers actually suggested to "boil" the ocean, not drain it. But that's a detail.

  • 4jkb4ia on February 23, 2012 5:58 PM:

    "Our requests for comment from the Newt campaign have yet to be returned"

    Beautiful deadpan.

  • dweb on February 23, 2012 6:24 PM:

    "That was not intended as a factual statement."

    See Kyl, Jon, U.S. Sen. AZ (Republican) Response to his initial claim that 90+% of Planned Parenthood activity was abortion-related.

    See News, Fox (virtually anything that appears on their airwaves.

    See Inhofe, James, U.S. Sen. OK (Republican) There is no such thing as global warming.

  • John S. on February 23, 2012 7:11 PM:

    I wonder if the $432B includes federal employee benefit payments such as health insurance contributions, TSP matching payments, and the like. Just wondering.