Regular IWF blog readers may suspect that I admire Robert Samuelson. I religiously read his columns, and even though he doesn't share my limited government philosophy, I appreciate his commitment to deficit reduction, particularly entitlement reform. Samuelson seems to relish his role as a hall monitor for the welfare state. Yes, I wish he wanted to buck the system, but I'm glad that he is around at least to make sure that people are playing by the rules.

His latest column, though, seems a frustrating attempt to stand above partisanship and lay the blame for our massively dysfunctional political system (which I'm writing a piece about for Townhall tomorrow) equally at the feet of both Republicans and Democrats. Republicans over-sell the ease with which spending can be cut, and the amount of waste that exists, while Democrats pretend that all we need is to jack up taxes on the rich.

Certainly, there's some truth to this. Conservatives spend a lot of time talking about the need to end wasteful earmarks, and making fun of government Bridges-to-Nowhere, when all those earmarks are really small potatoes in terms of the federal budget. Yet non-defense discretionary spending has increased by about $200 billion between 2000 and 2011, after accounting for inflation, and cutting back to Clinton-era levels would certainly be a step forward in balancing our budget.

Conservatives don't deny that there are legitimate functions for the federal government. But Americans should consider more than just trimming a few billion from select discretionary programs. They should ask themselves if anyone honestly thinks that we are getting anywhere near $70 billion in value from our Department of Education or $150 billion from the Department of Agriculture (both budgets have doubled during the last ten years). Maybe Americans don't want to shut those agencies down entirely—though it's certainly worth exploring—but most would probably agree that they could do with a substantial haircut, and those savings would add up to real money overtime.

Samuelson even seems to belittle conservative attempts to control the costs of entitlement spending, since much (if not all) of those savings would be eaten up by the growing number of retirees. Yet that only makes those cost-saving measures all the more critical. Steve Moore reports today in the WSJ on some of the Republican proposals at the Super Committee, including reforms to Social Security and Medicare to bring down the rate of growth. Anyone who cares about our long-term fiscal health (as I know Samuelson does) should be roundly applauding such efforts—particularly knowing that Democrats and their media servants will jump on them as an assault on the elderly.

Sure, some conservatives are guilty of highlighting budget estimates most favorable to their cause and downplaying the difficulty of holding down tax rates as entitlement costs explode. Yet Samuelson's attempt at equivalency in this piece is plainly ridiculous, and it doesn't help encourage an honest discussion about getting our fiscal house in order.