October 24, 2007

Big Spender From Out West

It takes a Texan to spend big in the White House, it appears. According to McClatchy -- and to no one's surprise -- George Bush has presided over the largest expansion of federal spending since Lyndon Johnson, another Texan with a predilection for expansive spending. The rate of increase for discretionary spending in the Bush administration has outstripped that of LBJ, 5.3% to 4.6% (via Memeorandum):

George W. Bush, despite all his recent bravado about being an apostle of small government and budget-slashing, is the biggest spending president since Lyndon B. Johnson. In fact, he's arguably an even bigger spender than LBJ. ...

When adjusted for inflation, discretionary spending — or budget items that Congress and the president can control, including defense and domestic programs, but not entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare — shot up at an average annual rate of 5.3 percent during Bush’s first six years, Slivinski calculates.

That tops the 4.6 percent annual rate Johnson logged during his 1963-69 presidency. By these standards, Ronald Reagan was a tightwad; discretionary spending grew by only 1.9 percent a year on his watch.

Defense drove the numbers for Bush, but it did for LBJ, too. By the time he left office, LBJ had more than twice as many troops in combat than we do now. The Great Society turns out to be slightly less expensive than Compassionate Conservatism. Bush even added to the Great Society framework with the prescription-drug benefit that added hundreds of billions to the entitlement disaster that awaits us in 15 years or less.

McClatchy reporter David Lightman gets some devastating quotes from familiar sources. Club for Growth executive director David Keating says there is "no doubt" that Bush is a big spender. Cato analyst Steve Slivinsky calls Bush a "big government guy". Brian Riedl of the Heritage Foundation points out Bush's expansion of the Department of Education and agricultural spending to show how Bush has operated outside of fiscal conservatism and federalist principles.

Others blame Congress, including Diana Furchtgott-Roth of the Hudson Institute. However, Lightman rightly points out that Bush never vetoed a single spending bill while the Republicans controlled Congress. In fact, he never made much of an argument against pork-barrel spending during those six years, either, preferring to horse trade rather than exercise fiscal discipline. He has become a recent convert out of political expediency only for fiscal responsibility and pork reduction.

Republicans have to comprehend the utter failure of their party to adhere to conservative principles before they can hope to regain control of Congress. So far, as the vote yesterday on pork demonstrates, most of them have not listened to their electorate or learned the lesson of 2006. Given the opportunity to run both chambers of Congress and the White House, they wound up expanding government more and faster than Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, while multiplying the use of earmarks for incumbency protection. Until they demonstrate a commitment to better governance that outstrips their personal greed for power, they will remain a minority party.


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