Right Thinking From The Left Coast
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Bush and Spending

Following up on this post from this morning, some of you are miffed at me for blaming Dear Leader for something.

Lee, it was Bush who proposed reforming social security and retirement savings, even devoting 90 days of his presidency to traveling the country trying (unsuccessfully) to sell the reforms. It was the Democrats who stopped it. Blaming Bush for this is just plain wrong.

Before we get into the numbers, let’s talk about SS reform.  Wow, he devoted 90 whole days to it.  And do you know why it died?  Two words:  Terri Schiavo.  Remember all that political capital Bush built up with a solid win over Kerry?  He subsequently pissed it all away trying to keep a fucking drooling, brain-dead vegetable alive.  When it came down to it, keeping James Dobson and Pat Robertson happy was far more important to this president than actually using his political capital for something as vital as SS reform.  So, please, let’s not act like Bush is some kind of martyr, powerless against the Democrats (who, let us not forget, were the minority party in Congress at the time).  Okay, let’s get to the numbers.

Cato Institute, 2005

President Bush has presided over the largest overall increase in inflation-adjusted federal spending since Lyndon B. Johnson. Even after excluding spending on defense and homeland security, Bush is still the biggest-spending president in 30 years. His 2006 budget doesn’t cut enough spending to change his place in history, either.

Total government spending grew by 33 percent during Bush’s first term. The federal budget as a share of the economy grew from 18.5 percent of GDP on Clinton’s last day in office to 20.3 percent by the end of Bush’s first term.

The Republican Congress has enthusiastically assisted the budget bloat. Inflation-adjusted spending on the combined budgets of the 101 largest programs they vowed to eliminate in 1995 has grown by 27 percent.

The GOP was once effective at controlling nondefense spending. The final nondefense budgets under Clinton were a combined $57 billion smaller than what he proposed from 1996 to 2001. Under Bush, Congress passed budgets that spent a total of $91 billion more than the president requested for domestic programs.  Bush signed every one of those bills during his first term. Even if Congress passes Bush’s new budget exactly as proposed, not a single cabinet-level agency will be smaller than when Bush assumed office.

Cato Institute, 2005

President Bush signed a $417.5 billion defense appropriations bill for fiscal year 2005 on August 5,2004. With the addition of an $82 billion supplemental for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, in real terms U.S. military spending will be at a level exceeded only by that of the waning years of World War II and the height of the Korean War. The Defense Department had requested $401.7 billion, which was a 7 percent increase over the FY04 defense budget. The recently submitted FY06 Pentagon budget is $419.3 billion (notincluding funds for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan). The administration argues that increased military spending is a necessary part of the war on terrorism.

Those budgets assumed that the war on terrorism is primarily a military war to be fought by the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines. The reality is that large conventional military operations will be the exception rather than the rule in the war on terrorism. Although President Bush claims Iraq is the central front in the war on terrorism, the truth is that ridding the world of Saddam Hussein’s brutal regime did not eliminate an Al Qaeda sanctuary or a primary source of support for the terrorist group.

The military’s role in the war on terrorism will mainly involve special operations forces in discrete missions against specific targets, not conventional warfare aimed at overthrowing entire regimes. The rest of the war aimed at dismantling and degrading the Al Qaeda terrorist network will require unprecedented international intelligence and law enforcement cooperation, not expensive new planes, helicopters, and warships.

Therefore, an increasingly large defense budget (DoD projects that the budget will grow to more than $487 billion by FY09) is not necessary to fight the war on terrorism. Nor is it necessary to protect America from traditional nation-state military threats—the United States is in a unique geostrategic position; it has no military rivals and is relatively secure from conventional military attack because of vast oceans on its flanks and friendly neighbors to the north and south.

Heritage Foundation, 2006

Why is spending restraint so important? Because, despite reducing tax rates, President Bush’s and Congress’ historic spending spree is laying the groundwork for the largest tax increase in American history.

Without a single veto, President Bush has overseen the largest spending spree since Franklin D. Roosevelt sat in the Oval Office. Surprisingly, new defense and homeland security costs account for less than one-third of all new spending. Even non-defense spending is expanding twice as fast as it did under President Clinton.

These guns and butter budgets are virtually unprecedented. During World War II and the Korean War, Presidents Roosevelt and Truman cut non-defense spending by 35 percent and 25 percent, respectively. Yet during the war on terrorism, lawmakers enacted the most expensive education, agriculture and highway bills ever, and created an $8.7 trillion Medicare drug entitlement. Since 2001, education spending is up 137 percent, international spending is up 111 percent, and health research and regulation spending is up 78 percent. Despite cries of “mean-spirited cuts,” even anti-poverty spending just reached a record 3 percent of GDP.

In sum, 2006 federal spending will reach $23,760 per household – the highest inflation-adjusted level since World War II, and nearly $5,000 higher than five years ago. And that figure is increasing $1,000 annually. Unless spending is pared back, within a decade balancing the budget alone could require a $7,000 per household tax hike.

American Enterprise Institute, 2005

Total real discretionary outlays will increase about 35.8 percent under Bush (FY2001-06) while they increased by 25.2 percent under LBJ (FY1964-69) and 11.9 percent under Reagan (FY1981-86). By contrast, they decreased by 16.5 under Nixon (FY1969-74) and by 8.2 percent under Clinton (FY1993-98). Comparing Bush to his predecessors is instructive. Bush and Reagan both substantially increased defense spending (by 44.5 and 34.8 percent respectively). However, Reagan cut real nondefense discretionary outlays by 11.1 percent while Bush increased them by 27.9 percent. Clinton and Nixon both raised nondefense spending (by 1.9 percent and 23.1 respectively), but they both cut defense spending substantially (by 16.8 and 32.2 percent).

… Total real outlays have increased by 23.4 percent under Bush, placing him second only to LBJ. As the architect of the Great Society, Johnson created vast new entitlements such as Medicare and Medicaid, which continue to balloon the mandatory portion of the federal budget. Mandatory spending reached its zenith under Nixon, partly because entitlement spending tends to balloon during recessions, as poverty rates and unemployment increase.

Note the sources of these data:  Cato, Heritage, and AEI.  Those of you who love to fall back on that tired old liberal media conspiracy bullshit are going to have a hard time with this one, since I didn’t cite any media sources.

So, is Bush solely responsible for the spending situation?  Of course not.  But Bush is the president.  Bush is the guy who could have used his Constitutional power to check and balance the legislature by refusing to sign these spending bills.  Bush is the guy who chose to veto not a single fucking spending bill.  Bush is the guy who has presided over the largest spending increase in decades. 

So, do I place a big-ass slice of blame at Bush’s feet?  You’re goddamned right I do.  And only someone blinded by sheer partisan idiocy could refrain from doing likewise.

Posted by Lee on 05/31/07 at 07:32 PM in Politics • Permalink


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