Government Spending

Data: More Than Anybody Wanted

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The standard definition of a compromise is that each side gives up something to facilitate a deal. In Washington, however, compromise means that both sides get more than they originally asked for; only taxpayers are asked to give something up.

Consider last fall's budget compromise. Way back in 1997, the president and Congress agreed that in fiscal year 2000, the federal government would spend no more than $580 billion from its discretionary accounts. No matter: President Clinton proposed spending $592 billion. After much wrangling, Congress managed to get him to agree to spend a mere $617 billion.

"This is how agreements are made in Washington," says Scott Hodge, a budget analyst at Citizens for a Sound Economy. "The president requests a level of spending, Congress approves a slightly lower amount, and after they negotiate they compromise at a higher level than even the president asked for."

This dynamic was on display in the agriculture research bill, which funds such worthy items as blueberry research and aquaculture studies. Clinton requested $469 million, the Senate approved $474 million, and they compromised at $486 million. In the case of education, congressional leadership actually bragged that they spent $1 billion more than the president requested.