Bush the Budget-Buster Redux


USA Today tells the world what Hit & Run readers knew last fall: that George W. Bush is a budget-busting behemoth who has cranked up discretionary spending in a way that would make LBJ blush. Indeed, in his first five budgets Bush (and the GOP Congress) increased total discretionary spending 7.16 percent per year compared to LBJ's 5 percent per year.

Go here for an explanation of "discretionary" versus "mandatory" spending, etc. Briefly, discretionary spending includes like most defense spending, farm subsidies, and education while mandatory spending includes entitlements such as Medicare and student loans. Discretionary spending is subject to annual review and cuts or increases. Mandatory spending requires more legislative action to change. Both account for about 50 percent of the federal budget, though significant expenditures, including Social Security, are "off budget" and don't show up in such tallies.

From USA Today's reckoning:

The federal government is currently spending 20.8 cents of every $1 the economy generates, up from 18.5 cents in 2001, White House budget documents show. That's the most rapid growth during one administration since Franklin Roosevelt.

More here. There are some reasons to discount the measure of spending as a percentage of GDP (overall economic growth can mask spending increases; recessions tend to shrink economies and boost spending on welfare programs; etc), but significant increases are significant increases.

In a related story, USA Today charts how presidents since LBJ (the first one to fall whose terms fall under the budget analysis still in use today, thus allowing direct comparisons with predecessors) have done in terms of overall federal spending. Try to match the presidents and their overall, inflation-adjusted increases: LBJ, Nixon-Ford, Carter, Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Clinton, and George W. Bush. The average annual increases: 2 percent (twice), 3 percent (twice), 4 percent, 5 percent, 6 percent.

The answers online here.