TCS Daily

Did Anyone Actually Read Bush's Budget?

By John Merline - February 8, 2006 12:00 AM

The AP calls it "austere." Reuters says it "cuts domestic programs from community policing to Medicare." The Washington Post: "drains money from two-thirds of federal agencies, continues a large military buildup" CNN: "Teachers, doctors protest budget cuts." USA Today: "Bush's budget big on security, Medicare, domestic programs trimmed." Even Republicans are critics. Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., called the cuts in education and health "scandalous." Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, is "disappointed and even surprised."

All of which raises the question: Did anyone actually bother to read the budget? Apparently not. Because a casual look through the document finds that few of the claims holds water. As it turns out:

The Defense budget is going down, not up. Bush has set total Defense spending for 2007 at $504 billion, down from $512 billion in 2006. (Bush is increasing the "core" defense budget; the savings come from a proposed cutback in "emergency funding" for the Iraq War.) Bush wants to cut Defense spending still more in 2008, to $473 billion.

Ditto Homeland Security: Bush proposes spending $43.6 billion on Homeland Security, down from $43.8 billion in 2006. The figure keeps dropping each year for the next five.

Education spending is through the roof: Even if Bush does convince Congress to trim back on education spending in 2007, the Department of Education's budget will be 80% bigger than when Bush took office. In the eight years Bill Clinton was in the White House, education spending climbed just 17%.

Medicare "cuts" aren't cuts at all: The program will continue to grow at a healthy clip over the next five years, spending $100 billion more in 2011 than in 2007. All Bush is proposing is a modest adjustment in the rate of increase. Yes, the change adds up to $36 billion over five years, but that's a mere 1.6% of the $2.2 trillion in projected Medicare spending for those years.

Bush's 2007 budget is an extremely modest attempt to rein in what has been one of the most prolific spending sprees in modern American history. Under Bush, overall federal spending has climbed 20%. And that's after adjusting for inflation. (By comparison, spending climbed 12.7% in real terms during the Clinton years.)

Bush's 2007 is about $500 billion above where federal spending would be if he simply maintained the spending trend set by Bill Clinton. (Clinton years in Blue, Bush years in Red. Total spending in $Trillions).

It would be nice to blame the war on terror, or the growth in entitlement programs, for this climb. But spending on things other than Defense and Homeland Security, such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid and Medicare, actually rose at a faster rate -- 23%.

Here's another way to took at it. If Bush wanted to get spending back on the growth trajectory set by Clinton, he would need to cut more than $500 billion out of his budget this year alone. (See chart.) Even leaving out everything but non-Defense domestic discretionary spending, Bush's domestic discretionary spending for 2007 is above the Clinton trajectory by $78 billion dollars.

So, realistically, anything short of spending cuts of these magnitudes really doesn't count as a budget cut at all.

John Merline, former editorial writer for USA Today, is a writer living in Virginia.

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