WASHINGTON — BOTH President Bush and Gov. Bill Clinton have spent heavily during their administrative tenures.
Governor Clinton was constrained by an Arkansas law requiring a balanced budget. Bush supported the balanced-budget amendment that failed to pass Congress earlier this year.
But since 1989, the president, in conjunction with the Democratic Congress, has created bigger deficits than any US leader in the post-World War II period. He has never submitted a balanced budget to Congress.
"If massive growth of government and multibillion-dollar deficits were the solution to America's economic problems, the nation would be basking in unprecedented prosperity, and Bush would be widely acclaimed as an economic miracle worker," says Stephen Moore, director of fiscal policy studies at the Cato Institute. Mr. Moore says that by increasing the federal budget by 8.7 percent a year from 1989 through 1992, "Bush is outspending [former President] Lyndon Johnson, the architect of the Great Society an d the War on Poverty."
Wall Street has looked on with suspicion this year as spending climbed by more than 10 percent, four times the economy's growth rate.
Summing up the last nine months of government outlays, Lawrence Kudlow, chief economist of Bear, Stearns & Co., writes: "Unfortunately for Governor Clinton, President Bush has already proven that higher `government investment' does not necessarily provide lasting economic stimulus."
"The Economic and Budget Outlook" published by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) in August concludes that the nation's economic and budget outlook isn't bright. "Although initial projections .... suggested that the  budget agreement was likely to get the deficit under control in a few years, that prospect quickly vanished."
The CBO report cites the recession, its very slow recovery period and lower-than-expected tax revenues. But CBO economists and other analysts point to the biggest problem: "The unexpectedly rapid growth in federal benefit programs - primarily Medicare and Medicaid - has left the federal deficit stuck near $300 billion for the next few years and heading upward in the second half of the decade."
As much as the Bush administration and Congress have spent during the past four years, there are serious concerns about obligations that both the chief executive and the lawmakers have avoided.
Waiting in the wings, economists warn, are large payments the federal government is expected to make to clean up the debris from the failure of savings and loans across the country. Bush Treasury Secretary Nicholas Brady declared the "savings-and-loan mess" behind us earlier this year. But CBO economists put the price tag at $135 billion. "Delayed funding boosts the actual cost of resolution, as sick institutions stay in business and incur losses that the government will eventually pay."
CBO analysts are also concerned about the health of the US commercial banking sector and the future financial role of the US Treasury in shoring them up. Some 1,600 banks - or about 37 percent of the industry's assets - are "precariously capitalized."
While federal budgets are bursting at the seams, state and local governments have been forced to take on more financial responsibility for programs established by the federal government.
UNDER Clinton's leadership in Arkansas, the state was scrambling to come up with needed revenue in the face of severe cutbacks in federal funds during the Reagan and Bush administrations. Arkansas, like other poor Southern states, felt acutely the pressures of declining assistance from Washington.
The governor raised taxes and steadily increased spending for two principal purposes: the state's poorly developed infrastructure base and its ailing school system. Clinton has directed some 70 percent of Arkansas state revenues to making improvements in education.
The only way to increase spending in Arkansas is through higher taxes or additional user fees. Arkansas is one of many states that prohibit deficit spending, and Clinton has had to balance all 11 of his budgets.
While the Republicans have pinned the "tax and spend" tag on Clinton during the campaign, a survey of Arkansas political and business leaders - including liberal senators and a former chairman of the Arkansas Chamber of Commerce who served during one of the most recent tax initiatives for education improvements - suggests that Clinton often won widespread support for his spending programs.