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February 4, 2008

It Keeps Growing, And Growing, And Growing, And ....

The White House has submitted its budget request for 2009, and it gives everyone a mixed bag. It increases military spending and attempts to cut some programs and reduce others. However, its total spending puts the US above $3 trillion for the first time:

President Bush submitted a federal budget of $3.1 trillion on Monday, declaring that the spending plan would keep the United States safe and prosperous and, despite its record size, would adhere to his principle of letting Americans keep as much of their own money as possible.

“Thanks to the hard work of the American people and spending discipline in Washington, we are now on a path to balance the budget by 2012,” the president said in an introductory message. “Our formula for achieving a balanced budget is simple: Create the conditions for economic growth, keep taxes low and spend taxpayer dollars wisely or not at all.”

The spending package for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1 included no big surprises, especially since its key elements had already been reported in detail in recent days. The Pentagon’s proposed budget, for instance, is $515.4 billion, an increase of 7.5 percent over this year, meaning that military spending would be the highest in inflation-adjusted terms since World War II. And the White House’s plans for trimming Medicare and Medicaid have also been previewed. ....

Mr. Bush said he would cut or terminate 151 programs, saving $18 billion in 2009. One agency, the Education Department, accounts for 47 of the terminated programs and three of the programs to be cut. But he would increase spending in areas that fall under the umbrella of “national security.”

Clearly, we will not see a reduction in the reach of the federal government under this president, but at least we see some glimmers of hope. The entitlement reforms attempt to prod Congress into taking the coming crises in Medicare and Social Security more seriously. Eliminating 151 programs reminds one of the joke about lawyers at the bottom of the ocean -- it's a good start, but one suspects it to be a drop in the bucket. Certainly $18 billion is a drop in the bucket, a grand total of 0.6% of all federal spending in the fiscal year.

The overall direction of government spending still has not changed, though. We shouldn't have been passing $3 trillion; we should be moving back towards $2 trillion, where we were in FY2002. In that year, we spent $732 billion in non-defense discretionary programs. Three years later it rose to almost a trillion dollars, and now we're well over that mark.

In six years, the budget has grown 33%. Do you feel better served by that increase?

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