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Hey There Big Spender:

Is President George W. Bush the most spendthrift president in recent memory, if not all time? It sure seems that way. Discretionary federal spending has increased more rapidly under President George W. Bush than any other post-WWII president.

Take almost any yardstick and Bush generally exceeds the spending of his predecessors.

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, [the Cato Institute's Steven] 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.

Discretionary spending went up in Bush's first term by 48.5 percent, not adjusted for inflation, more than twice as much as Bill Clinton did (21.6 percent) in two full terms, Slivinski reports.

Of course defense and homeland security account for a decent share of the increase, but spending rose elsewhere as well. And while Bush did seek some entitlement reform, he also pushed a new entitlement in the form of the prescription drug bill.

The President's defenders point to Congress' voracious appetite as the cause of the spending increase, but Congress could not spend this much alone. President Bush enabled Congress' fiscal excesses by refusing to veto ever-increasing spending bills — many of which were passed by a Republican Congress — while the administration simultaneously pushed for more federal spending on education, agriculture, and other items. Even if Bush gets veto-happy in his last 15 months in office, he'll still be remembered as a big-spending President — and rightly so.

Jay D:
guns 'n' butter
10.24.2007 11:50pm
John Thacker (mail):
Of course defense and homeland security account for a decent share of the increase,

About two-thirds of the increase, according to the CBO. Discretionary spending bottomed out at 6.3% of GDP in 1999 and 2000, a decline almost entirely due to a decrease in defense spending from the 6% of GDP under Reagan to 5% under Bush I, to 3% by the end of Clinton's term. Under the current Administration, defense spending has risen back to 4%, almost matching the level of 1994 (but still below all Cold War levels.)

Non-defense discretionary spending took a big jump from 2001 to 2002, going from 3.2% of GDP to 3.5%. They've stayed at 3.5 to 3.6% of GDP every year since, rising in line with the economy. (For comparison, non-defense discretionary spending was at 3.4% during Clinton's first term, 3.1% during his second, 3.1% during the first Bush presidency, 3.3% during Reagan's second term, 3.8% during Reagan's first term, and 4.6% of GDP during Carter's term.)

One obviously complains about the details of the drug benefit, but having Medicare fail to cover them made little sense. I'm somewhat interested by the papers that Tyler Cowen keeps pointing to, such as this one.
10.25.2007 12:15am
John Thacker (mail):
Hmm, the blacklist filter makes it very difficult to talk about the Medicare benefit. Lots of phrases and combinations of words used close to each other seem to make it think that I might be trying to sell pharmaceuticals.
10.25.2007 12:16am
Another Roger:
"[M]any of which were passed by a Republican Congress"? Were any not passed by a Republican Congress?
10.25.2007 12:18am
John Thacker (mail):
Reagan's first term raised defense spending from 4.9% to 6.1% (certainly a lower percentage increase than from 3.0% to 4.0%), but largely paid for it (in spending, not revenue terms) by cutting non-defense spending from 4.7% to the same 3.5% of GDP that is considered big-spending today. That itself was reversing the Carter presidency, which cut defense spending by about a point of GDP in order to raise non-defense spending by a similar amount.
10.25.2007 12:28am
John Thacker (mail):
Is President George W. Bush the most spendthrift president in recent memory, if not all time? It sure seems that way.

That would, I think, to a great deal depend on whether one considered the abnormally low (in a post 1962 sense) discretionary spending on both defense and non-defense items as a percentage of GDP that prevailed post 1994 to be a new baseline that one should expect to become the new norm or a temporary aberration soon to be reversed to more historical levels. The total amount of discretionary spending is 7.8% of GDP, lower than any pre-1994 post-WWII level. The level of non-defense discretionary spending has been steady for the last five (soon to be six) fiscal years as a percentage of GDP, and is at the 40 year median for such spending.
10.25.2007 12:35am
Eli Rabett (www):
Supply side my friends.
10.25.2007 12:52am
Kazinski:
For all Bush has done right, tax cuts, Afghanistan, Iraq, Roberts and Alito, torturing Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, etc., his lack of discipline on domestic spending, especially the Medicare boondoggle are going to be a black mark on his presidency.

Thacker is right that in terms of the historical percentage of GDP spent on discretionary programs the Bush years are not out of bounds. But the economy has been rising at such a high rate that it makes such comparisons obsolete. You wouldn't expect to compare the percentage of a household budget spent on food to remain the same over the last 40 years, or energy or housing for that matter. As living standards have risen the allocation of the household budget has changed dramatically. Same with our national economy, we could get my with a Federal budget of %15 of GDP, but the bar has been set at %19-22, so Congress and the President are going to try to spend that much (or more).
10.25.2007 1:58am
Nate F (www):
I have spoken to a friend who just finished a four year stint in military intel who assures me that the consensus there is that the president's spending priorities vis-a-vis the War on Terror are way, way out of whack (to elaborate, they believe that intel, law enforcement, and special ops should be doing the job). Probably not news to many of you, and anecdotal, I know, but I think worth mentioning.
10.25.2007 2:02am
David M. Nieporent (www):
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
Of course, this is politicianspeak; Congress and the president can -- do -- control "entitlement" spending. They just agree to pretend otherwise, for political reasons.

I don't disagree with the main thrust of the post; I just want to point out that an "entitlement" isn't, and all government spending is discretionary. (Although it would be a rather big abuse of said discretion not to at least pay interest on the debt.)
10.25.2007 2:40am
Mary Katherine Day-Petrano (mail):
The War On Terrorism costs Waaaayyy too much discretionary spending money. But what ya gonna do? We need the oil ...
10.25.2007 3:08am
BGates:
Mary, how does that 'blood for oil' exchange work? I've heard lots of people allude to the scheme, which seems to go something like this:
Step 1, invade Iraq
Step 2
Step 3 Profit

What is step 2?
10.25.2007 6:56am
Smallholder (mail) (www):
Good googly-moogly Day-Petrano!

If we wanted the oil cheap, Saddam would have gladly sold it to us, undermining the price-fixing of OPEC. I could be wrong, but I think waging a war and occupation is usually pricey. And I could be wrong, but I think oil prices have risen significantly recently, a rise partially attributable to the war. Please explain - mathematically - how invdaing Iraq gets us cheaper gas.

One can oppose the war without demonstrating innumeracy.

Or lack of historical understanding. American foreign policy as a result of the erratic workings of democracy, has always had complex motivations.
10.25.2007 9:14am
Mary Katherine Day-Petrano (mail):
BG, why are you asking a mere observer about the President's War strategy? Don't you think you should be directing your fill-in-the-blank question to G.W.'s War Czar?

BTW, I'm not "lots of people;" I'm just merely one observer.
10.25.2007 9:15am
TomT (mail):
I was going to ask what defenders are you talking about, but after reading your comments, I see what you mean. I think it is generally accepted by most conservatives that President Bush has been a big spender and it is an area of great dissappointment.
10.25.2007 9:19am
Mary Katherine Day-Petrano (mail):
"Saddam would have gladly sold it to us"

Maybe so, absent the good sense of the President and VP to know Sadaam was a scoundrel and they had to go in there and take him out. Wasn't it great when Sadaam's statue fell?

"Please explain - mathematically - how invdaing Iraq gets us cheaper gas."

Do I look like I'm employed as a policy wonk or McNamara-esque bean counter for the Administration? Why don't you direct your question to the right official; I'm just a mere observer.
10.25.2007 9:22am
Mary Katherine Day-Petrano (mail):
S-"googly moogly," do you remember how outright chaotic things were getting at the gas pump in 1973 (the long lines, odd&even days, people fighting each other)?

This Country can't run without the oil.
10.25.2007 9:31am
ChrisIowa (mail):

Do I look like I'm employed as a policy wonk or McNamara-esque bean counter for the Administration? Why don't you direct your question to the right official; I'm just a mere observer.


But you still have to explain why you think the Iraq war is about oil.

We're all sitting on the edge of our chairs waiting.
10.25.2007 10:32am
Mike S.:
I'd like to take some issue with the phrase "discretionary spending--or budget items that the President and Congress can control." So-called entitlement programs are also by statute and subject to control by changing the statute. There is nor fundamental reason that entitlements cannot be decreased by law if the Congress and president so decide.
10.25.2007 11:06am
Adeez (mail):
Professor Adler, you can cite all the "facts" and "statistics" that you'd like. I say you suffer from Bush Derangement Syndrome.

Nate F: why does your military-intelligence-working friend hate America so much?

And Katherine, if I may chime in: you don't need to explain why the Iraq war's about oil. For those who're so curious, they can ask that lilly-livered hippie liberal Alan Greenspan, who just said the same thing. And on a related note, just b/c the war was about oil, it doesn't follow that the oil prices were intended to go down. Quite the opposite, actually. How much a barrel now?
10.25.2007 11:25am
ChrisIowa (mail):

There is nor fundamental reason that entitlements cannot be decreased by law if the Congress and president so decide.


To a politician, getting re-elected is fundamental.
10.25.2007 11:36am
NatSecLawGuy:
I am searching for a political party that still believes in fiscal conservatism, any ideas? I am fresh out in this two-party system.
10.25.2007 12:24pm
Smokey:
To expand on John Thacker's stats: GWB's budget deficit was due mostly to his tax cuts and the War on Terror. That one-two punch pushed the deficit to over $400 billion.

But tax cuts put money into the economy without resorting to inflation [the printing press]. The $400 billion budget deficit has been steadily whittled down by a very strong economy stimulated by tax cuts, and now stands at only $160 billion - a relatively small deficit by recent historical standards.

At this rate, the deficit will be erased, or close, by January 2009. At which time President Hillary will cancel the tax cuts and begin to spend all the money generated by her predecessor.
10.25.2007 12:30pm
Mike Keenan:
"Even if Bush gets veto-happy in his last 15 months in office, he'll still be remembered as a big-spending President — and rightly so."

Bush will be remembered (good and bad) for 9/11 and the GWOT response. Increases in spending unrelated to those are not historically significant.

I don't think history will be kind to Bush, but who knows. He could become another Truman.
10.25.2007 12:56pm
Joe Kowalski (mail):

The $400 billion budget deficit has been steadily whittled down by a very strong economy stimulated by tax cuts,

I hate to be a bear, but if the current housing situation keeps up, the economic gains (bubble?) that the low taxes and low interest rates pushed will be erased and the deficit could skyrocket again.
10.25.2007 2:01pm
BGates:
Thanks for the tip, Adeez. I asked him, and he said,

"My view is that Saddam, looking over his 30-year history, very clearly was giving evidence of moving towards controlling the Straits of Hormuz, where there are 17, 18, 19 million barrels a day" passing through.

Greenspan said disruption of even 3 to 4 million barrels a day could translate into oil prices as high as $120 a barrel -- far above even the recent highs of $80 set last week -- and the loss of anything more would mean "chaos" to the global economy.

Given that, "I'm saying taking Saddam out was essential," he said. But he added that he was not implying that the war was an oil grab.

"No, no, no," he said. Getting rid of Hussein achieved the purpose of "making certain that the existing system [of oil markets] continues to work, frankly, until we find other [energy supplies], which ultimately we will."

Does that sound right to you?

As to the notion that the goal of the war was to push oil prices up, does it trouble you at all that the people who supported liberating Iraq also tended to support opening ANWR for drilling? Are Halliburton and the Sierra Club working together to restrict world oil supplies?
10.25.2007 4:32pm
wooga:
BGates said

Mary, how does that 'blood for oil' exchange work? I've heard lots of people allude to the scheme, which seems to go something like this:
Step 1, invade Iraq
Step 2
Step 3 Profit

What is step 2?

Step 2, of course, is "Collect Underpants."
10.25.2007 4:55pm
KeithK (mail):
Given that George W. Bush campaigned as a "compassionate conservative" and really never gave any indications that he would govern as a fiscal conservative (re: spending) it should surprise no one that the president hasn't made restraining spending a priority.
10.25.2007 7:42pm
wooga:
Right, Bush is an advocate of "Daddy" government as opposed to Clinton's "Mommy" government. Both want increased federal power under some sort of paternalistic impulse (i.e., the common folk are stupid/children).

Personally, I would prefer the feds adopt a more "Rich eccentric uncle" role. You rarely see him, and he knows he does not have the right (as your parents might) to tell you how to live your life, but you know that if disaster struck, he would come to the aid of his family.

Contrast that with the Kucinich "self-righteous vegan sister" style of government.
10.25.2007 8:23pm
Smokey:
Joe Kowalski:
I hate to be a bear, but if the current housing situation keeps up, the economic gains (bubble?) that the low taxes and low interest rates pushed will be erased and the deficit could skyrocket again.
You're right, Joe, that the housing bubble may affect the deficit.

However, the huge reduction of the budget deficit occurred independent of the housing bubble, which was caused primarily by two events: The packaging of mortgages allowed lenders to lay off the risk that they had always assumed themselves. For instance, a local bank would lend money to a local homebuyer. Banks had to be very careful in their underwriting standards because it was their money they were lending, so they almost always required a substantial down payment and absolute verification of the buyer's employment status and income.

Then came the easy credit, based on the unprecedented volume of international liquidity. The money had to go somewhere, and real estate was the investment of choice. Rating agencies blithely gave AAA ratings to packaged tranches holding 100% homeloans that home buyers received without any independent income or employment verification. This was unprecedented, and a recipe for disaster - which is now unfolding.

Sorry to be so long winded, but the point is that the housing bubble had almost nothing to do with the swelling and subsequent big reduction of the current federal budget deficit. You are absolutely correct when you say that the housing bubble may substantially affect the economy. But the housing bubble is way more Greenspan's doing than Bush's doing.
10.25.2007 10:13pm
Smokey:
Take almost any yardstick and Bush generally exceeds the spending of his predecessors.
OK then, I'd like to take this yardstick.
10.26.2007 12:21am
Mary Katherine Day-Petrano (mail):
"Sorry to be so long winded"

You weren't nearly as winded as you get when you nut-case-out upon someone confronting you with abrupt climate change due to global warming. The last 3-pg post of yours I read on the other thread went beyond even any amount of sheer volume I could have possibly conveived of writing.

A record breaker.
10.26.2007 12:57am
Mary Katherine Day-Petrano (mail):
"conveived" = conceived
10.26.2007 12:57am
Smallholder (mail) (www):
Petrano,

I'm unclear about your viewpoint.

Please enlighten me.

As I (obviously mis-) understand it, you have:

A) Made ridiculuous illogical assertion

B) When questioned on the illogical assertion, claim that only someone who would never make such an illogical assertion should answer the question because you are only an observer.

I'm a mite confused - I thought you had stopped being an observer when you made a claim in the marketplace of ideas.

If you have realized that the claim can't be supported by the evidence, ought you not to refine your understanding of the issue?
10.26.2007 1:45pm
Smokey:
Smallholder, go easy on MKDP. She truly believes that the military controls the weather. As proof positive of this 'ridiculous illogical assertion,' as you aptly put it, she posted this recently in a discussion about global warming. She was sincere. Which is, I guess, a quality to be admired.

But I think I've found a possible cure for these delusions - which are clearly broadcast from outer space and directly into the minds of certain susceptible individuals.
10.26.2007 2:29pm
TomFromMD (mail):
This is news to anyone? I noticed this trend years ago. It was my principal reason for voting AGAINST Bush in '04.
10.28.2007 2:52pm