- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 7, 2003

With Republicans controlling the White House and both bodies of Congress, 2003 marked the first year since 1954 that the GOP controlled the appropriations process from beginning to end. Under such nominally favorable legislative circumstances, the year-end spending mishaps were not supposed to happen. But they have, and Republicans are substantially to blame. (It is worth noting that in 1994, the last year Democrats controlled the White House and both bodies of Congress, all 13 appropriations bills were passed and signed before the fiscal year began.)

Even before Republicans consolidated their control over the appropriations process, they had already compromised their claim to spending restraint. During the two previous fiscal-year cycles, for example, President Bush never exercised his veto power to restrain congressional spending — and it showed. Recent data from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) for fiscal 2003 reveal that total nondefense spending (excluding net interest costs) increased by 7 percent. That’s more than three times the increase in the price level.

In fiscal 2002, it was even worse. Total nondefense spending (excluding net interest costs) in 2002 increased by 10 percent over 2001. That was nearly seven times the inflation rate.

The above figures for fiscal 2002 and 2003 include mandatory spending (such as Social Security and Medicare) as well as discretionary outlays, which are subject to the annual appropriations process. But the Bush administration and congressional Republicans don’t fare any better on the nondefense discretionary-spending front.

Relying on the administration’s fiscal 2004 mid-session budget review, (which was issued before the $87 billion Iraq-related supplemental spending request submitted in September), the Cato Institute compared the first three years of the Bush administration’s fiscal record with the record of Ronald Reagan’s first three years.

Both administrations increased real (i.e., inflation-adjusted) defense spending — cumulatively, 19.2 percent under Mr. Reagan and 27.2 percent under Mr. Bush. It is in their treatment of real nondefense discretionary spending where the differences are so striking. Under Mr. Reagan, such expenditures actually declined by 13.5 percent over three years. Under Mr. Bush, they will increase by more than 20 percent.

To be sure, some of the additional spending under Mr. Bush was necessary for homeland security, and more such spending will be necessary in the future. That’s why Congress must begin controlling other discretionary outlays.

Neither Mr. Bush nor congressional Republicans should take any solace from the fact that Democrats would undoubtedly have increased nondefense spending more if they were in control. If Republicans do not begin doing a much better job controlling non-terrorism domestic spending, they will earn the conservative sobriquet: Republicrats.

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