Imagine having a president who increases domestic spending faster than Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter combined; a president who pushes through Congress the largest new open-ended entitlement program in decades; a president who refuses to veto a single spending bill, even when Congress spends tens of billions more than he had requested.
No need to imagine: Conservative Republican George W. Bush is that president. Few presidents in history-not even the most liberal of Democrats-have embraced big government as enthusiastically as President Bush has.
A study by the Cato Institute last month revealed the numbers: Overall federal spending has grown at an annual rate of 5 percent under President Bush. Under Jimmy Carter the annual increase was 4.1 percent; under Richard Nixon, 3 percent; under Ronald Reagan, 2.6 percent; under George H.W. Bush, 1.9 percent; under Bill Clinton, 1.5 percent. Of recent presidents, only Lyndon Johnson splurged more than George W. Bush, increasing spending at a rate of 5.7 percent.
"Mr. Bush may think he's a conservative, but from the fiscal point of view, he's certainly not," said New York Stock Exchange chairman John Reed in a recent speech. "He's a big spender."
Of course, there is a war on, and President Bush has had to increase spending on the military and on homeland security to fight terrorism. But strip away defense and homeland security spending, and Mr. Bush is still one of the most profligate presidents in history. Nondefense and non-homeland security spending has increased 4.8 percent under President Bush, compared to 2.1 percent under President Clinton and 1.6 percent under President Carter (see graph.)
The president has left no Cabinet agency behind in his rush to spend taxpayers' money. If his 2006 budget passes as submitted, he will be the first president in a generation to have every single Cabinet-level department grow during his watch. Cato reports that every other president since Johnson cut spending, in inflation-adjusted terms, for at least one Cabinet department.
President Bush has also committed future taxpayers to cover prescription drugs for Medicare recipients, creating the largest new entitlement since the Johnson administration. The program has a projected price tag of $593 billion in its first 10 years (including $2 billion for male impotence drugs like Viagra). This is at a time when Medicare was already heading toward insolvency and when the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that a typical senior spends more money eating out at restaurants than he spends out-of-pocket on drugs.
The Bush spending binge could not have come at a worse time, say budget analysts. The number of Americans on Social Security and Medicare will begin growing rapidly in a few years, creating an enormous burden for today's children and threatening their ability to finance future national security needs.
President Bush and congressional Republicans know this, but they have made the political choice to add to that burden with deficit spending. "Republicans," says former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, "have lost their way."