Me and some bloggers talked budgets with OMB Director Jim Nussle this morning and Phil Klein typed up a report over at the American Spectator.
Asked about spending growth during the Bush years, he said that Bush had a much smaller degree of control over discretionary spending than his predecessors because of the rise of mandatory spending, and after the Clinton years we faced a "security deficit." So, the increase in defense and homeland security spending is what lead to the rise.
That was my question: I asked Nussle about the unanimous ire coming from the 2008 GOP field about spending increases during the Bush years. He's pretty new in the job, so has he learned something they don't know? Are they naive? And that was, largely his answer.
"Most people will answer that Bush and the Republican Congress, top line, did a good job controlling spending, compared even to Ronald Reagan." Hm, debatable. "You have to take into account the Department of Homeland Security, which was created in a bipartisan effort and then had to be funded. Before 2001 we weren't concerned enough about security." Also: "We can debate the war, but once that decision is made you have to fund it."
Yes, we can debate it, but Nussle's basically right. The Republicans who whine the most about government spending—McCain, Romney—are talking largely about pork that doesn't make a big dent in the overall picture. They're talking haltingly about entitlement reforms; they're not talking at all about cutting military spending or defense spending.