The Latest Data on Bush's Spendthrift Ways

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Over the past two weeks, I've written or co-written a couple of things about how George W. Bush outspent Lyndon Baines Johnson in his first four budgets. To recap: When it comes to inflation-adjusted increases in discretionary spending (comprising most defense and nonentitlement spending), Dubya beats LBJ like Sam Houston beat Santa Anna at the Battle of San Jacinto.

The gap becomes even bigger when you stretch the comparisons out to the first five years of each prez's budgets. Here are numbers for all recent presidents who oversaw at least five budgets prepared by American Enterprise Institute analyst Veronique de Rugy. All are based on Office of Management and Budget and all are adjusted for inflation. The Bush figure for fiscal year 2005 is based on OMB midsession review numbers; the figure for fiscal year 2006 is based on the OMB midsession review of the budget Bush submitted earlier this year (if anything, the final figures will be higher than his provisional budget):

First Five Years, Percentage Changes in Real Discretionary Spending

LBJ: 25.2%
Nixon: -16.5%
Reagan: 11.9%
Clinton: -8.2%
Bush: 35.2%

Read 'em and weep.

NEXT: Banned, for Her Pleasure

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  1. I weep. I see no way out. I weep some more.

  2. Any further breakdown of the data showing just the non-defense component of discretionary spending?

  3. Since nobody’s favorite program ever loses money without an at least equal increase in spending to somewhere else (Conservation of Current Spending, Dr. T?), I hereby declare the term “Discretionary Spending” obsolete.

  4. Yeah, but you know what I meant.

  5. Yeah, but you know what I meant.

    That we would not want to cast too much of a jaundiced eye on wasteful spending by the military industrial complex because many of us get our jobs from there and they keep us safe from foreign threats, like Iraq?

  6. Dave W-

    No, I meant the word “discretionary” as in “non-entitlement”, since the appropriations bills for Social Security and Medicare are handled somewhat differently.

    And the main reason for excluding defense spending is that people can always cite recent events as alleged justification for waste on that front. But my understanding is that the spending glut includes a lot of the domestic programs that the right ostensibly opposes.

  7. And the main reason for excluding defense spending is that people can always cite recent events as alleged justification for waste on that front.

    Would you do this, T.?

  8. Dave W-

    No, but I want to head off the inevitable “Don’t you know we’re at war?” argument by just looking at the domestic side.

  9. No, but I want to head off the inevitable “Don’t you know we’re at war?” argument by just looking at the domestic side.

    That’s a pretty big rend in the Randian rubric.

  10. That’s a pretty big rend in the Randian rubric.

    Huh?

    Look, when you criticize the amount of spending, an easy out for the other side is “Don’t you know we’re at war?” So make them squirm by only looking at non-defense stuff. And then they say something about how Social Security and Medicare aren’t discretionary (Congress could, in principle, do something about it, but they have a different procedure to avoid fireworks over those appropriations), so you remind them of all the other stuff.

    And then they still squirm, and you know you’ve got them.

  11. I happen to think there is value in the defence / non defence spending separation. I just don’t think that Discretionary and Nondiscretionary describe anything approaching reality anymore.

    If you need Iowa to keep your job, Corn Welfare is non discretionary.

  12. Thanks for the answers, T. I know I was taking a bit of a poke, but I am tired of Democrats who would slash military, but not social waste and Republicans who would slash social, but not military waste. I have observed the games between these two factions for long enough and have decided that it is a dynamic that increases statism, despite the fact that everybody is willing to trim waste from projects they don’t really support in the first place. To me, that’s mush-mouthed and it ain’t helping.

    I think the discretionary versus non-discretionary distinction is a distraction here. Unless you want to roll back gov’t across the board, you are part of the problem, rather than part of the solution. If you think the Iraq War was “non-discretionary” in any sense of that word, then again: part of the problem, not the solution.

  13. Jason-

    I’m not disagreeing. I’m using the terms “discretionary” and “non-discretionary” as jargon, not descriptions.

  14. and if you think that military expenditures less needed than the Iraq War are also non-discretionary, then you are not just part of the problem — you are a fat, fertile welfare queen.

  15. And the main reason for excluding defense spending is that people can always cite recent events as alleged justification for waste on that front.

    I understand this. I use the same tactic sometimes when arguing about the war… When I talk about the cost of the war in terms of civilian casualties, I often get the, “Don’t you know how many civilians Hussein would have killed?” in response. There’s no such argument when I talk about the cost in American killed and wounded, so that’s what I tend to talk about.

    Likewise, I understand thoreau’s logic here… but I might add that–even towing the LP line–national defense is a perfectly legitimate function of government and good libertarians of integrity can disagree about how much we should spend on it. …Take out defense spending, and there’s not a whole lot left to argue about, is there?

  16. What about Jimmy Carter?

  17. Look here for a breakdown
    http://www.cato.org/pubs/tbb/tbb-0510-26.pdf

    hopefully this shows up

    Table 1. Real Annualized Growth Rates, by Category and President

    Total Defense Domestic Entitlement
    Johnson 5.7% 4.9% 3.9% 8.9%
    Nixon 3.0% -6.6% 5.5% 12.5%
    Ford 2.9% -2.8% 6.3% 2.4%
    Carter 4.1% 3.0% 1.8% 4.1%
    Reagan 2.6% 4.4% -1.2% 2.0%
    G.H.W. Bush 1.9% -3.8% 3.3% 4.8%
    Clinton 1.5% -1.7% 1.8% 3.3%
    G.W. Bush* 5.6% 8.8% 7.1% 4.7%

  18. actually thoreau’s “divided government” works

    dave w:

    what gives you the impression that thoreau is one of those cut-one-but-not-the-other democrats? being a poke at him didn’t seem to advance all of our supposed agreement on budget busting.

  19. I’m surprised someone of the Federalism Or Death variety hasn’t come along and threatened to revoke the libertarian credentials of anyone who didn’t agree that this is a just and proper use of state’s rights, and oh by the way if you don’t like it you can always move.

    Was not really a poke at Thoreau, but there are certainly libertarians around here that give away the whole game when defense is mentioned.

    At first blush, it would seem like these half libertarians are helpful in the sense that half a loaf is better than none at all. However, I have been watching for a couple decades and I know better how it works now. When push comes to shove, the guns not butter people would rather fund the butter than give up their guns. we always end up with more guns and more butter, and people who should know better stay comfortable in their delusion that they can be scared shitless of Saddam (or Osama) and still be libertarians. Its time to change this dynamic. Joe helps.

  20. The italicized quote was the wrong one, from another thread, hopefully it is clear what I was responding to on this thread by my response.

  21. thoreau – I believe what you’re looking for is here.

    Scroll down to fig. 5.

  22. Happy Jack-

    According to Figure 5 in that link, LBJ would be worse!

  23. Ack – it’s an older chart. 2004 and 2005 were estimates. Forgot to mention that.

  24. Depends upon how neccessary the Iraq War was relative to the Viet Nam War. If you are one of those people who still thinks Viet Nam was critical to US national security, then LBJ’s number is way better.

  25. Dave W – Fig. 5 is non-defense discretionary spending. I think thoreau wanted to separate defense from non- defense. Wars have a tendency to skew the numbers.

  26. 1. I stand corrected on Fig. 5.

    2. Still, I am pretty sure the aim is to be kinder to defense spending waste than social spending waste. I maintain that that exact attitude (which Thoreau may or may not share) hurts the cause of small gov’t more than it helps.

  27. Figure 5 is not labelled “non-defense discretionary spending,” just “non-defense spending.”

  28. Anon – the numbers track with the discretionary column in Table 8.2 in the OMB’s historical tables. The tables have a separate column for mandatory spending.

    I noticed that the header says outlays, so those numbers might exclude what has actually been authorized but not spent yet (ie, Iraq reconstruction, which would fall under international). I’m not sure if they take into account supplemental spending either. I’d have to wade through the notes.

  29. Yeah, I realized later that the numbers were non-defense spending, not the non-defense “discretionary” spending. (In keeping with customary usage I’m using “discretionary” as jargon for “neither Social Security nor Medicare”. I realize that “discretionary” is neither strictly accurate nor useful for distinguishing it from other budget items.)

    Still, I remember reading a few years ago that non-defense “discretionary” spending has also sky-rocketed under Bush, and that in general it goes up more under united government and less under divided government.

    I just realized that there should be a caveat on any conclusions drawn from examining united and divided governments: From FDR through 1994, the Dems almost always controlled at least the House, and usually the Senate as well. For most of the past 70 years “united government” has almost always meant rule by Democrats, and “divided government” has almost always meant a Republican in the White House.

    Now, to be fair, the past 11 years seem to support the hypothesis that divided government means less spending than unified government. The GOP Congress certainly hasn’t shown much interested in constraining spending under Bush, whereas under Clinton the GOP Congress was much more confrontational. (I know that a couple of our posters will say that even in the first two years of Clinton’s term the situation was better than it is today. Even if that’s true, my concern for the moment is drawing inferences from a large data set, so I’m discussing trends that last longer than 2 years.)

    Still, in the interest of scrupulousness, I must acknowledge that the data set since FDR is more skewed toward a particular configuration of divided government.

  30. That provides some insight, but i’d also like to see the original table that of dollar figures, adjusted for 2005 dollars. You could also go further and show how much money each taxpayer could have saved under each president.

    If a government is powerful enough to issue paper currency by fiat, there’s no reason they wouldn’t borrow by fiat (who’s going to call in the debt?).

    What would you do if you had a credit card with no limit, and instead of you being responsible for paying the balance, someone you didn’t know would have to pay it off 200 years later (long after you’re gone?). Initially, you’d use it for a serious emergency (WWII). Then you start looking for problems (peacekeeping) to use it on, because you feel it sure would make life better at home. Soon you start inventing emergencies out of thin air (Iraq), or to pay off ever-increasing promises you made to your friends (tax cuts, rebates). In the end you have a nice house, lots of shiny toys, and no credibility, especially to the guy responsible for the bill.

    So what happens to that guy 200 years into the future? That person can barely make ends meet because the debt collector takes so much money. Eventually that person gives up. They relinquish their rights as a citizen to have a more comfortable life. This means working for food and shelter on a wealthy person’s property, also called feudalism (sort of like rent but more dark).

    At least they’ll have bicycles this time.

  31. I just realized that there should be a caveat on any conclusions drawn from examining united and divided governments: From FDR through 1994, the Dems almost always controlled at least the House, and usually the Senate as well. For most of the past 70 years “united government” has almost always meant rule by Democrats, and “divided government” has almost always meant a Republican in the White House.

    My criticism of this analysis is that it focuses too much on each administration is that it focuses to much on the ups and downs of individual administrations and/or congresses. I would argue that the meaningful cycles run at a lower frequency than the partisan ups and downs, but the basic game is that each side raids the tax fund for its pet causes when it is in power. In between there may or may not be times of gridlock, where spending stays rather constant, before the pendulum swings and one or the other party gains control and ratchets up spending in his selected areas (with Bush, the areas are clearly military and seniors).

    When I come to this board and see people going out of their way not to forbear from damning gigantic globs of “defense” (much of it is really offense) waste, and even posters who buy into this defense spending as non-wasteful, I can see how you half libertarians get played in the long run. Your fear of the Russkies or Osama or Saddam or Kim sends you running for “food stamps,” in the form of armamnts, to feed your ravenous fear. This robs you of all your cred when you go criticize social spending.

    The Iraq War ought to make things clear. Your fears were unfounded. Your mistake cost us a lot of money and a lot of extra gov’t. Time to stop coddling these people, and if its you, then its time to stop coddling yourself. In other words, give it up, T.

  32. Dave W-

    I think I have a pretty dovish track record on this forum. I generally don’t buy into the defense build-ups.

    My only reason for focusing on the non-defense stuff is to debunk the people who grudgingly say “Yeah, well, at least our side isn’t as bad on the domestic spending!” A look at the last several years shows that their side is in fact as bad, if not worse. That’s all. Just refuting a common argument. Nothing more, nothing less, and certainly nothing apologetic intended.

  33. should be –ways to forbear–

  34. Its not enough to be “dovish.” Hawks have no place in a libertarian discussion. They are anti-libertarian. No appeals to their reason need be made. They have bigger problems they need to work on before they are fit for a libertarian discussion.

  35. The raw spending increase is, really, not an interesting statistic, unless you are a liberal speaking to another liberal.

    The real question is what the change of spending as a percentage of GDP?

    Also, what’s the numbers for defense versus non-defense?
    (How much of the Clinton-era decrease was defense spending, which we have to make up for?)

    I don’t know this information, but it would tell more of the tale.

  36. jrp – you can find all the numbers here. Scroll down to historical tables.

  37. There might be a higher or alien intelligence somwhere in the universe. Science doesn’t know, can’t know and probably won’t know in your lifetime whether this is true or false, or even what the odds are. Likewise, there might be a creature(s) here on Earth created by a god or an alien. Science doesn’t know, can’t know and probably won’t know in your lifetime whether this is true or false, or even what the odds are.

    Statist troll go away.

  38. put the wtrong quote. The statist troll is jrp, terrified of Arabs and willing to spend your tax money to indulge her cowardice.

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