US spending surges to historic level
Vote on gargantuan bill in Congress caps a year of stunning growth in government.
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The Concord Coalition, a bipartisan watchdog, calls this the "most irresponsible year ever."Skip to next paragraph
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The House may approve the spending bill Monday. In the Senate passage is also expected but the vote could be delayed, perhaps into the new year, by Democratic maneuvering.
While critics decry billions of dollars of small "pork" projects, the bulk of domestic spending is for major programs. Exhibit A is the expansion of Medicare to include prescription drugs, which President Bush is expected to sign into law Monday. Sold as a $400 billion reform, the real costs could soar past $2 trillion in the second decade, as 76 million baby boomers begin to retire into the system. Conservatives say it's a formula for massive deficits and tax increases in the years to come.
Then, there's the $180 billion farm bill, passed just in time for 2002 elections, when farm states determined control of the Senate. It buried out of sight any thought of rolling back the federal system of farm support, which conservatives once pledged to abolish.
The president's signature No Child Left Behind Act increased education spending by 33 to 68 percent, depending on how you calculate the numbers.
While lauding the Bush administration's annual tax cuts, conservatives worry that what will determine taxes in the long run is what Washington spends.
The extent of the spending increase depends on how you cut the numbers. "The president laid down a marker of keeping the growth in discretionary spending for this fiscal year at 4 percent or below," says Chad Kolton, a spokesman for the White House Office of Management and Budget. "Congress will meet that target laid down by the president," not including the $87 billion that Congress has already voted for supplemental defense spending in fiscal year 2004.
In fact, if you focus only on nondefense spending that the president can control, the Bush record on fiscal discipline is even better, he adds. Liberal budget analysts agree that there has been some squeeze on social programs in the Bush years, especially in 2003 and 2004.
One reason for rising spending: The GOP's margin of control is tight in both the House and the Senate. On Capitol Hill, more spending has always been a formula for winning agreement on tight votes. In addition, key budget restraints such as pay-as-you-go requirements have been allowed to sunset. On Oct. 1, 2002, the two main enforcement provisions for budget discipline on Capitol Hill were allowed to quietly expire. These include caps on discretionary spending and PAYGO provisions, which require offsets for new programs.
Federal spending is now at a level surpassed only during World War II, after running about $18,000 per year in the 1990s.
Spending/ per household
1. 1944 $26,445
2. 1945 $25,572
3. 1943 $23,370
4. 2003 $20,399
Source: Heritage Foundation, constant dollars