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Red Ink: Inside the High-Stakes Politics of the Federal Budget

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3.8  ·  Rating details ·  531 Ratings  ·  100 Reviews
In a sweeping narrative about the people and the politics behind the budget, Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter David Wessel looks at the 2011 fiscal year (which ended September 30) to see where all the money was actually spent, and why the budget process has grown wildly out of control. Through the eyes of key people—Jacob Lew, White House director of the Office of Managemen ...more
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Published September 17th 2012 by Tantor Media (first published January 1st 2012)
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Nicole R
Disclaimer: I work for a U.S. Congressman. I spend months and months of my work year looking at the federal budgets for the Department of Commerce, the Department of Interior, the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Energy (those are the government agencies in my "issues portfolio"). The news is continuously on the TV that is mounted on my desk right by my two monitor computer set-up (the monitor on the left is a mosaic of WSJ, NYT, WaPo, CNN, etc.). I use words like budget baseline ...more
Zach
Feb 08, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you're looking for a basic overview of the United States federal budget, you can't do much better than this book. David Wessel, an economics editor for the Wall Street Journal, explains several key aspects in regards to the federal budget: how we got here, where the money goes, where the money comes from, and why this can't go on forever.

A subject as far-reaching as the federal budget is bound to include budget-related aspects from various fields. For example, Mr. Wessel goes into the finance
...more
Schnaucl
4.5 stars.

My dad recommended this book and loaned me his Nook to do it.

This offers a fairly comprehensive but easy to understand explanation of how the US ended up with such a large debt.

As far as I can tell it was pretty even handed except that it kept the number the banks borrowed to TARP levels, which Matt Taibbi and Nomi Prins (among others) would argue is way too low a figure. He also perpetuates the myth that the banks have paid back TARP, which, while it may be technically true, ignores
...more
Tiffani
Aug 13, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting read on the federal budget. Wessel gives a short history and explanation of how the federal government's funds are generated and where those funds are spent. The figures are overwhelming but any reader would find the book informational. The most powerful quote from the book comes from the CBO's director Doug Elmendorf, "The country faces a fundamental disconnect between the services the people expect the government to provide, particularly in the form of benefits for older Americans, ...more
Andy Farley
Extremely succinct, balanced hard lesson on the realities of the deficit. Essentially why we're totally fucked.
Correen
Aug 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It is a tough challenge to write an interesting book about the problems about funding our national budget. The problems are monumental and our problem solving capabilities seriously flawed. Explaining the problem in a non-partisan manner and explaining the strengths and weaknesses of all the of those who have attempted to provide a solution is an even more impossible task.

Wessel explains the situation well. He gives his own solution and then explains that it, too, is flawed.
Lizzie
Published in 2012 but already a bit outdated, Red Ink is a concise and easy primer on the U.S. federal deficit. Despite the fact that our politics and our fiscal health have only spiraled down since publication, the book provides a concise history of federal debt and an even-handed list of the major concerns and schools of thought on how to address the challenge.
Breakingviews
Nov 27, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
By Rob Cox

To understand the current state of the U.S. federal budget - and the policies the next president will be forced to pursue from day one - there are two pieces of required reading. The first is a two-year old wonky white paper entitled “The Moment of Truth,” by the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. The second is “Red Ink,” David Wessel’s handy new guide to understanding the politics of the federal budget.

If the race between President Barack Obama and former Massac
...more
Book
Aug 07, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Red Ink: Inside the High-Stakes Politics of the Federal Budget by David Wessel

“Red Ink” is a very solid and concise book that provides the public with an essential understanding of how the Federal Budgetary process works. Pulitzer prize-winning author and economics editor for the Wall Street Journal, David Wessel takes the readers on a smooth ride through the US Federal Budgetary process. A book about the budgetary process can be dry and dull but Wessel's command of the topic and lucid prose ma
...more
Christopher
With the election concluded in Pres. Obama's favor and the media political attention focused on the so-called "fiscal cliff," this little book on the federal budget is as timely as it is informative. Mr. Wessel, who previously wrote about the Federal Reserves' actions to ward of the Great Recession in In FED We Trust Ben Bernanke's War on the Great Panic by David WesselIn FED We Trust: Ben Bernanke's War on the Great Panic, writes a book aimed at enlightening the general populace on that byzantine product Congress has to produce every year and has lasting conseq ...more
Bethany
Jun 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Christina Romer said it best on the back of this book - "I wish every voter would read this book. It spells out in a clear, nonpartisan way the realities of the deficit...The message is painful, but the book is not." Somewhere in the past, maybe my generation or my parents, we as a country lost our sense of community. We no longer care about our neighbors. We no longer volunteer to help others without an ulterior motive (boost our resumes, get a scholarship or board position, look better at the ...more
Carl
Mar 03, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A short but not at all sweet introduction to the United States debt. The book contains a history of the main events: the New Deal, Social Security, Medicare, Reagan “starve the beast”, “Read my lips, no new taxes”, the short-lived Clinton surpluses, etc.

The author has a very gloomy view of the future: We’re driving seventy miles an hour toward a cliff and there’s nothing we can do about it. The main factors are the exploding benefit programs, the aging of the population, health care, and interes
...more
Camille Tesch
Sep 30, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: public-policy
This is a well-written, concise account of the federal budget, including key players, challenges, and politics involved. It clearly explains where federal revenues come from and where the money is spent. If you've ever wondered where your tax dollars go, this would be a good book for you to read. The federal deficit and budget are so poorly understood by the American public, but so important to our current and future economic health. Americans who care about the economic future of the country sh ...more
Maanasa
If you're looking for a drama filled with turmoil, a building atmosphere of doom, some whimsy, a cast of plucky characters at odds with another and plenty of numbers, look no further than Red Ink. I recently started working in healthcare policy and the thing is that you can't really be involved in healthcare policy without getting sucked into the world of budget policy. This book gave me some much needed historical context and set out the general lay of the land while introducing me to the big p ...more
Kathy Nealen
May 31, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great overview of the federal budget, both revenue and expenses. It tells the history of how and why we achieved budget surpluses in the 90s and then proceeded to march into the scary deficit / debt problem that we have today.


Some concerns:

1) China and Japan hold a high percentage of our Treasury bonds, I.e., they are on their way to owning us. The upside is that we are a good investment?

2) More and more baby boomers are retiring and living longer and putting a huge burden on the younger generat
...more
Patrick
The book is small in size, the print is fairly centered on the page, and its 162 pages are a very quick read. I loved the concise explanation of the history of the debt from FDR to Reagan to Bush Jr. to Obama.

The obviously advocates for doing something about the debt, saying it will cause very large problems if we kick the can down the road any further. BUT, I don't think he takes potshots at anyone or either political party. I thoroughly enjoyed this right after the election where you can't be
...more
Kent
Aug 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: politics, economics
In a successfully non-partisan way, Wessel provides keen analysis and powerful insights on the challenging budget situation facing the United States. His ultimate assessment of the budget debate is the crux of this book. The assessment is outlined in the summary chapter, the heart of which comprises the last 5 to 6 pages of the book. It is based on inputs and strategy discussions of the most informed and engaged analysts and advisers working on budgetary issues, including many of the Simpson-Bow ...more
Thomas Maluck
Mar 02, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I know the federal budget, like a massive elephant, has far more crinkles and surfaces than this relatively quick book could possibly review, but it's nonetheless a great guide to getting a handle on the beast. The beginner's guides to the federal budget's history, money in/out, presidential/congressional influences, and overview of what America really spends its money on (and who pays what kinds of taxes) were all enlightening and essential reading for me.

I greatly enjoyed Wessel's takedown of
...more
Justin
Oct 24, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A concise, and easy to follow depiction on how the U.S. has sunk into the Red. The book really doesn't give any clear "cut" (pun intended) ways to get back into the black (however, a country should NEVER be in the black as that means they are not spending what they bring in). The author tries to stay middle of the road, but often starts to veer of course to the right a bit. If you're looking for a short read on why we are in debt, how the debt is made up, and some things that can be done, give i ...more
Dominique
Jul 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Good Book on the Current Economic Situation

[Note: Review transitioned from Barnes & Noble website]

David Wessel has compiled a concise book that will do what other books on this same topic take an exponentially larger amount of pages to explain.

You do not have to be familiar with financial/tax or other forms of jargon as the author explains what the terms mean while reading.

The amount of detail is impressive for a book of this size and you will be aware of the current financial situation th
...more
Crown Publishing Group
May 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: business
David Wessel, the Pulitzer-Prize-winning reporter, columnist, and bestselling author of In Fed We Trust, dissects a topic--the federal budget--that is fiercely debated today in the halls of Congress and the media, and yet is misunderstood by the American public.

In a sweeping narrative about the people and the politics behind the budget, Wessel looks at the 2011 fiscal year (which ended September 30) to see where all the money was actually spent, and why the budget process has grown wildly out of
...more
Kasandra
Mar 20, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A great explanation (concise and understandable) about how the federal budget works, how we got to where we are now, and various suggestions and ideas that could reduce the deficit over time (it's gonna hurt, no matter what, but it's doable, if both sides could meet in the middle/ agree that big changes are needed in both taxing and spending). Rational and objective information that doesn't get covered in depth in the news, this shows how difficult choices are necessary to get us out of the debt ...more
Ben
Feb 12, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is scary. And it makes listening to the current debates extremely frustrating. As we approach the election in 2016, the debt is not a huge issue of debate. It should be. Democrats try to win the confidence of fiscally disciplined voters by talking about efficiency, but studies have shown that inefficiency isn't really a driver of our debt. Of course, they know this, but it plays well. Republicans keep preaching tax cuts and other things that they know they will never have to be account ...more
Kevin
Sep 08, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was an excellent book that explained the whole Federal budget process from beginning to end. It clearly explained how the President's proposed budget is the opening kickoff for a proess that ends in spending that, more often than not, adds to the red ink and our growing national debt. As i found out, so much of our spending is on autopilot--nearly 63%--and doesn't require an affirmative vote of Congress on an annual basis. By law, social security benefits get deposited, Medicare pays medica ...more
Patrick
Dec 10, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I think this may be the first time in my life I might actually have wanted more information on the whole federal budget mess than the author provided. I think Wessel didn't want to lose readers in a 6,000 page forest of small type, confusing buzzwords and tables and charts straight out of bizarro-world. And in that he does an excellent job. But, like I said I came away with a curious feeling that there's quite a bit more going on than Wessel was able to squeeze into this book. Either because he ...more
David James
Jan 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Debts & Deficits for Dummies. This brief and clearly written book explains the mess we are in and what we can expect if we don't fix it. Wessel earns bonus points for doing what few are capable of in this hyper-partisan era: he documents our most pressing political challenge without once resorting to partisan rancor. That's because he recognizes that both sides are driving the problem.

There are no earth shattering revelations here, just the simple facts. Essential reading for anyone who thin
...more
Chris
Jul 06, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm hesitant to give such a simple, unambitious book, whose relevance will expire in a short time four stars. But there is a clear need for a brief, easily readable, debt & deficit 101 book that provides necessary background, addresses common misconceptions head on, and gives a summary of the current players and plans that has been scrubbed of bias thoroughly enough to make the book universally useful. Wessel offers no solutions, which is odd for a book on national debt, but I don't see how ...more
Pamela
Nov 04, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really interesting take on the federal budget and the deficit. Wessel makes a pretty compelling case for lowering spending, increasing taxes, and eliminating tax loopholes - all of which he presents as necessary if we want to continue our current defense spending and the "entitlement" programs we've come to expect. This was a quick read, and I'm sure people who are well-versed in politics and/or economics would find reasons to disagree with him, but for a beginner like me, it was a perfect intro ...more
Sally
May 14, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A quick read and a nice one in tandem with Dirty Wars as there are consistencies is both journalists characterization of Obama, though Wessel doesn't discuss Bush at all, only acknowledges what a mess Obama inherited. I first heard of this book because I heard the author speak last fall. He makes a strong argument for both raising taxes and slimming down programs, that everyone will have to give to make real improvement to reduce the national debt.
Jud Barry
Sep 19, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Even-handed, clear, comprehensive, objective, authoritative ... and brief! The Federal deficit is a big issue in the 2012 Presidential contest, but neither side in this interminable campaign will spell out the issues and alternatives unabashedly the way this book does. If only we could cancel the campaign (including all advertisements) pending the nationwide required reading of this book, then resume for a week of campaigning, then vote.
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