Big government gets bigger

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Entitlements threaten

The entitlement problem is not going away either.

Without reform, spending on Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security will rise from their current 8.4 percent share of GDP to 18.6 percent in 2050, according to the Heritage Foundation.

Entitlements are already eating up about 61 percent of the federal budget, and are predicted to consume nearly 69 percent of the budget by 2013, according to federal budget numbers.

“There is growing spending because of programs put in place by previous presidents, and Democrats in Congress have opposed every effort to try to bring down the explosive growth in those programs,” Mr. Fratto said.

Economists say the best way to measure the size of the federal government is to look at spending as a percentage of the total economy, or gross domestic product. And by that measure, Mr. Bush has increased spending more dramatically than any president since FDR, whose spending on the New Deal and World War II will likely never be matched. During his 12 years, government ballooned from 8 percent of the economy to 41.9 percent.

Mr. Norquist, who favors measuring the size of government as a percentage of GDP, said he got positive feedback but no results when he made that argument to the president’s first budget director, Mitch E. Daniels.

“Total government spending is the problem,” he said in an interview. “Spending as the percentage of GDP is the actual size of government.”

By that measure, federal budget numbers show spending under the Bush administration rose from 18.4 percent of GDP to 22.5 percent - a 4.1-point increase - and could end up even higher.

The only presidents to approach that level of growth were President Carter, who grew spending as a percentage of GDP by 1.5 points, and President Ford, who grew it by 1 point. Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Reagan and Clinton all decreased spending relative to the overall economy.

Measured in dollars, “Federal spending has grown twice as fast under President Bush as under President Clinton,” said Mr. Riedl of the Heritage Foundation.

Bush vs. Clinton

Mr. Clinton in fact saw spending decrease by three percentage points relative to GDP, largely because of the “peace dividend” created by the end of the Cold War. In dollar terms, he was able to cut defense spending by 20 percent even as domestic spending went up by 32 percent over his two terms.

The reduction in spending as a share of GDP began in his first two fiscal years while the Congress was controlled by Democrats and continued over the next six, working with a Republican-controlled Congress that swept to power on the promise to reform government, Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America.”

Federal spending was 20.5 percent of GDP in 1995, when Republicans gained majorities in the House and Senate, and by the end of Mr. Clinton’s presidency in 2001, had fallen to 18.4 percent of GDP, according to the federal budget numbers.

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