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February 7, 2006
Might As Well Face It, We're Addicted To Dole

The Heritage Foundation has released a report that shows the federal budget in crisis, and pork only tells part of the story. Titled Federal Spending - By The Numbers, the Brian Riedl report gives an easily-accessible look at the growth in federal spending during the Bush administration that should sober any drunken Congressman right up. It also demonstrates without a doubt that the tax cuts enacted by Bush have nothing to do with this crisis.

Tax revenues, in fact, have steadily increased during the tax cut period, and overall have more than doubled since 1990. In 2000, the last full year of Bill Clinton's term, tax receipts came to $2.025T. They dipped in 2001 and 2002 with the recession, dropping to a low of $1.783T in 2003, when the tax cuts got implemented. They have jumped in the last two years, to $1.88T and $2.154T, the last a 14% increase and the highest amount of federal tax dollars collected in history. By comparison, the tax receipt figure in 1990 was a "modest" $1.032T.

However, federal spending has kept the pace of the expansion in revenues. Last year's budget came in at $2.472T, and this year we expect to spend $2.77T, according to estimates released this week. Of that money, $969B comes in so-called discretionary spending, up $300B since 2001. But by far and away the worst of the bill comes in entitlement spending, which went to $1.32T last year, up from $1.009 in 2001. As a measure of the rate of increase in both areas, discretionary spending has increased 93% since 1990, but entitlements have gone up 132%, while revenues have increased by 109%.

Where has the increase come? Some of it has gone to national defense, but not all of it. In fact, the federal budget has grown across the board since 2001, outstripping inflation (12% overall) in several categories, such as Education (137%), Community and Regional Development (342%), Medicare (58%), Housing and Commerce (58%), Medicaid (49%), and Water Transportation (46%). Do you like the idea of nationalized health care? We may be heading there by default, as the federal budget for Health Research and Regulation has grown by 78% since 2001 and now consumes $76B of our budget.

It's these numbers and this growth that accounts for the budget crisis we face, but the root cause is a growing belief in America that government should deliver all services and provide a completely risk-free environment to its constituents. This leads to a simple yet unanswered question: who pays? The numbers make the answer clear -- we all pay, and we will all start paying much more unless these trends are reversed. Federal programs have become an addiction, not just to politicians looking to pork up home districts to guarantee re-election, but to all of us. What started as noble programs to assist the truly disadvantaged have now become bloated socialist nanny-care programs, floating everyone and relying on a decreasing work force to prop up the Ponzi scheme for just one more generation before the collapse comes.

It may not yet be here, but we can see it coming. We need to wean people off the public dole and make clear that the costs outstrip the benefits one will eventually realize. If we don't, Riedl's analysis shows where we will soon head. Read it all.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at February 7, 2006 6:30 AM

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