Republican spending orgy
Jeff Jacoby, Boston Globe
Wednesday, July 23, 2003
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AT THEIR national convention three years ago, Republicans pointed with pride to the GOP's record of fiscal rectitude.
"In the four decades from 1954 to 1994," the Republican platform declared, "government spending increased at an average annual rate of 7.9 percent, and the public's debt increased from $224 billion to $3.4 trillion." Those were the profligate years, when Democrats usually controlled both houses of Congress.
"Since 1994," it went on, "with Republicans leading the House and Senate, spending has been held to an annual 3.1 percent rate of growth, and the nation's debt will be nearly $400 billion lower by the end of this year. The federal government has operated in the black for the last two years and is now projected to run a surplus of nearly $5 trillion over 10 years."
Missing from the Republicans' recitation was any mention of the Democrat who had been in the White House since 1993. Didn't President Clinton deserve any of the credit for the spending restraint and budget surpluses?
Not according to Republicans, he didn't. In their view, they were the ones who slowed the federal spending train and forced Clinton to curb his big- government impulses. If he had had a Democratic Congress to do his bidding, that train would have raced out of control.
So here we are three years later, with not only a Republican Congress but a Republican president, too -- and the federal spending train is racing out of control. The Bush administration estimated last week that the government will end the current fiscal year with a budget deficit of $455 billion. Over the next five years, the public debt is expected to rise by $1.9 trillion. The administration projects next year's federal outlays at $2.27 trillion, more than $400 billion higher than when the president took office.
As any Republican will be glad to tell you, the GOP is the party of fiscal discipline. Unlike the wastrels of the Democratic Party, Republicans know that all government money is really taxpayers' money, and they take great pains to spend that money frugally.
Sure they do. That's why Republican George W. Bush, backed by a Republican Congress, is on track to become the biggest-spending president since LBJ.
In the first three years of the Bush administration, government spending has climbed -- in real, inflation-adjusted terms -- by a staggering 15.6 percent. That far outstrips the budget growth in Clinton's first three years, when real spending climbed just 3.5 percent. Under the first President Bush, the comparable figure was 8.3 percent; under Ronald Reagan, 6.8 percent, and under Jimmy Carter, 13.3 percent. No, that's not a mistake: Bush is a bigger spender than Carter was.
To be sure, Bush's budgets have had to account for Sept. 11 and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But even when defense spending is excluded, discretionary spending has soared by nearly 21 percent in Bush's first three years. In Clinton's first triennium, nondefense discretionary spending declined slightly. If their budgets were all you had to go by, you might peg Bush for the Democrat and Clinton for the Republican.
The budget cycle Bush inherited in 2001 closed with a surplus of $127 billion. The deficits that now stretch as far as the eye can see are the result of reckless budget-busting that would have Republicans shrieking if Al Gore were president. To see this kind of promiscuous budgeting come out of a Republican administration should outrage them even more.
Predictably, liberals and Democrats are loudly blaming the Bush deficits on the Bush tax cuts. But tax relief isn't leaking red ink all over the budget; spending is. In 2008, when most of the tax cuts signed by Bush will be fully phased in, they will reduce federal revenues by $177 billion. In the same year,
total federal spending will be $494 billion higher than it is today. By the end of the five-year budget plan, in other words, spending increases will outweigh tax cuts by nearly 3 to 1.
From the pork-laden homeland security bill to last year's bloated farm bill,
Washington's orgy of spending is bringing on the biggest deficits in American history. The gigantic prescription-drug entitlement making its way through the Capitol will force the budget even further into the red and the nation even deeper into debt. Americans count on Republicans to enforce, or at least invoke, the First Law of Holes: When in one, stop digging. But Republicans rule both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, and the digging is more furious than ever. How will the GOP explain that at its next convention?
Clarification: I wrote last week that while initial reports on the looting of the Baghdad museum put the number of stolen objects at 170,000, subsequent reports drastically reduced that number to fewer than 50. Even more recent reports have revised the number back up to at least 6,000 and as many as 13, 000.
©2003 San Francisco Chronicle