Whatever happened to the GOP’s crusade against bloated government? President Bush’s $2.25 trillion budget released Monday is almost 30 percent larger than the budget he inherited three years ago. Since the Republicans took over Congress in 1995, the budget has grown by 50 percent. If the Republicans are fighting a war against big spenders, the big spenders are winning.
There is much to admire in President Bush’s budget released Monday.
The president’s $670 billion tax cut will propel economic growth and deprive the spenders in Washington of dollars they would otherwise squander. The proposal to turn more control of Medicaid over to the states is ingenious and has the potential to spawn health-care reforms at the state level in a manner similar to the dramatically successful state-based welfare reform in the 1990s.
The White House also deserves praise for calling for a substantial expansion of IRAs so Americans can build privately owned pools of capital. This will increase the savings rate in America; will move us closer to a genuine flat tax that ends punitive tax treatment of saving and investment; and will make Americans more financially secure and less dependent on government programs in the future.
But in this budget, as in President Bush’s first two, there is way too much government spending. President Bush has requested a 4 percent increase in discretionary programs. Given the $200 billion to $300 billion in deficit spending expected this year, and given that we may soon be fighting a costly war in the Middle East, 4 percent increases in domestic programs funding for the Legal Services Corp., the National Endowment for the Arts, Bilingual Education, and other such oinkers is excessively generous in the extreme. Domestic discretionary spending should be at most frozen at current levels at least until the budget is brought back into balance.
If history is any guide, the 4 percent increase in spending is likely to be a floor, not a ceiling on expenditures this year. In recent years, congressional appropriators have nearly doubled President Bush’s spending requests. Consequently, the discretionary budget has grown by nearly 15 percent in Mr. Bush’s first two years in office more than it did in President Clinton’s first four years in office. In fact, Mr. Bush is on a pace to be the biggest spender in the White House since Lyndon Baines Johnson.
It’s not just Democrat obstructionism in fact, discretionary spending has, after an initial decline, rapidly expanding since Republicans gained control of Congress in 1994. In their first three budgets (fiscal 1996-98), the Republicans increased domestic spending by $183 billion compared to a $155 billion increase in the three years prior to Republican control of Congress. Not a single Cabinet agency has been eliminated. And few of the 300 federal programs that were targeted for closure a list that included the National Endowment for the Arts, the Legal Services Corp., bilingual education funds, urban transit grants, and Goals 2000 have actually been terminated. President Bush should call for a Commission to Terminate Wasteful, Inefficient, and Unnecessary Federal Programs.
Spending also is growing faster than the economy, as the Table shows. We are now back to Uncle Sam pick pocketing 20 cents of every dollar we earn. That does not include the money that states and cities take from our paychecks.
President Bush must make the case that during times of war, spending on domestic programs needs to be curtailed until the crisis is over. In most wartime periods in American history, domestic spending has fallen so the nation’s resources could be fully deployed to defeat foreign menaces.
The war on terrorism is the top national priority for our government today.
Fixing the economy is a close second. Both of those priorities are compromised when congressional appropriators waste scarce tax dollars on domestic pork and special-interest projects.
Mr. Bush can reverse the spending spree that has stained his presidency and defend his spending priorities by starting to make aggressive use of the veto pen. Virtually every spending bill Congress has sent to his desk over the past two years has deserved a veto stamp. Powerful presidents like Ronald Reagan and Franklin Roosevelt used the veto to great end to force their spending priorities on Congress. As Mr. Reagan said, “Controlling government spending is like protecting your virtue; you just have to learn to say ‘no.’ “
Stephen Moore is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and president of the Club for Growth.