The Cato Institute on "the Grand Old Spending Party":

I just noticed a new Cato study entitled "The Grand Old Spending Party: How Republicans Became Big Spenders."

Here's the guts of the Executive Summary:

President Bush has presided over the largest overall increase in inflation-adjusted federal spending since Lyndon B. Johnson. Even after excluding spending on defense and homeland security, Bush is still the biggest-spending president in 30 years. His 2006 budget doesn't cut enough spending to change his place in history, either.

Total government spending grew by 33 percent during Bush's first term. The federal budget as a share of the economy grew from 18.5 percent of GDP on Clinton's last day in office to 20.3 percent by the end of Bush's first term.

The Republican Congress has enthusiastically assisted the budget bloat. Inflation-adjusted spending on the combined budgets of the 101 largest programs they vowed to eliminate in 1995 has grown by 27 percent.

The GOP was once effective at controlling nondefense spending. The final nondefense budgets under Clinton were a combined $57 billion smaller than what he proposed from 1996 to 2001. Under Bush, Congress passed budgets that spent a total of $91 billion more than the president requested for domestic programs. Bush signed every one of those bills during his first term. Even if Congress passes Bush's new budget exactly as proposed, not a single cabinet-level agency will be smaller than when Bush assumed office.

The study is worth a read — in part for the useful charts (see, e.g., figures 1-6 of the study) graphically displaying some of the many different matrices by which spending (even non-defense and non-homeland security spending) has increased dramatically in the George W. Bush Administration.

The study suggests that united government is at least partly responsible. It notes (p. 13) that "[s]pending growth picked up steam much more quickly once Republicans gained control of the White House as well as Congress." I am sympathetic to this argument. As I noted last year, Cato President William Niskanen has written a paper demonstrating that divided government yields lower spending (and, perhaps more depressingly, that reductions in taxation produce increases in spending).

But this still leaves me with a nagging question: why aren't more small-government advocates resisting spending increases? Cato has been sounding the alarm for a while (back in March 2003, Cato published an article about Bush's spending entitled "Hey, Big Spender"), but many others have been relatively silent. Why?

A Blogger:
Because the party leadership runs the show. If you're a Republican small-government legislator and the leadership tells you to support the president's budget, it takes a lot of guts to object.
5.7.2005 10:00pm
Marc (mail) (www):
I think it's the Ralph Nader effect. Fiscal conservatives don't want to risk pushing too hard for "doctrinal purity" if it entails a serious risk that they lose elections, resulting in far worse consequences.
5.7.2005 10:36pm
longbongsilver (mail) (www):
They fail at blocking the expansion of government regardless of the tax rates because the preferences that people vote on are a contradictory mess:

Cut taxes? You're practically everyone's friend.
Cut spending?? You're a heartless Scrooge that walks on the backs of the Common Man on your way to the Limo.

The idea of a free lunch entices people, it's to a comfortable democracy what Crack is to an addict. The only thing that could even possibly make a dent would be for a string of people to come along and say in the clearest terms possible "LOOK, either programs A, B, and C have to be cut, or your taxes have to go up to X, PICK ONE!" and essentially fall on their swords.

I recall the governor of Alabama did something along those lines a couple years ago.
5.7.2005 10:44pm
Bernard Yomtov (mail):
why aren't more small-government advocates resisting spending increases?

Because there aren't any real small-government advocates in office, and very few elsewhere for that matter. One example, easily multiplied. The Boston Globe ran an article about Amtrak yesterday. Its long-distance routes, through places like Montana and Mississippi, are its biggest money-losers. Yet the "conservative" legislators from those places insist that the service be continued. This is in between giving speeches about the evils of welfare and big government and so on.

Small government for thee, but not for me.
5.7.2005 11:59pm
Because after 9/11, to question Presidential decision making was to be unpatriotic and 'hate America.' Extreme right-wing pundits blasted liberals and moderates with jingoistic rhetoric and pithy sound-bites for (wisely or unwisely) opposing Bush Administration policies. Small government advocates, seeking to avoid the same scathing attacks, gave the administration carte blanche.

It's also likely cognitive dissonance. Small advocates believe that the GOP is the party of small government, and so when faced with new information demonstrating the opposite (at least under Bush), they simply refuse to acknowledge the problem, or at least downplay its severity.

Lastly, it's also possible that the number of small-government advocates is much smaller than previously thought. Those who, prior to unified government, supported small government probably found that once they grabbed hold of the reins, flexing big government muscle isn't so bad.
5.8.2005 10:55am
Donkeyboy (mail) (www):
A Long Time Ago (yesterday) in a Galaxy, well, country, not too far away

You just can't make this shit up. Our beloved Chancellor Palpatine demonstrates that either he is the sublime Sith master, using Jedi mind tricks to stifle irony, or he is as obtuse as a SovInformBuro apparatchik in the '30s.
5.8.2005 11:35am
Chris Meserole (mail) (www):
My take over at Democratic Vista:

Isn't the answer obvious though? Bush may have increased spending, but he's also simultaneously cut taxes -- and done so by citing almost exclusively the numbers and arguments proferred by libertarian thinktanks. As a result he's silenced his own internal opposition by meeting them half-way. Any time someone gets on him about the spending increases, all he has to say is, 'Look, I'm trying. I'm cutting taxes. Aside from the war, the rest I can't control -- just look what's happening with Social Security.'
5.8.2005 11:59am
PersonFromPorlock (mail):
The Republicans have finally fallen for the notion that they too are in the business of government and that a business that does not expand, dies. Since both parties are now branches of the 'Party Of Government', the only distinction between them is what they use the government for; and since one branch will do what the other will not (and vice versa), between the two of them the POG will eventually have the government doing - and controlling - everything.
5.8.2005 12:15pm
Mark Draughn (mail) (www):
<em>why aren't more small-government advocates resisting spending increases?</em>

It's especially depressing when you look at what it means to the real economy---the economy as accounted for by goods and services produced and consumed: If a government employee (or a private employee of a government contractor) is doing something unnecessary, then their effort isn't contributing to the national welfare and shouldn't theoretically be counted in the GDP. The labor hours of a productive person are going to waste, and can never be recovered. Their potential contribution is lost forever.

Taxes are only bad for the economy as a whole (as opposed to the poor saps paying them) to the extent they distort production and consumption. Wasteful spending, on the other hand, is a 100% deadweight loss.

As for why more small-government advocates aren't resisting spending increases, I have some thoughts based on public choice theory.

A spending cut that eliminates 1000 wasteful government jobs will terribly upset the 1000 people who get laid off. It will also ever so slightly enrich each of the 300 million Americans who no longer have to pay for those jobs. Naturally, the 1000 people losing their jobs are highly motivated to fight the cuts and are easy to organize (often belonging to a single agency or government contractor). On the other hand, most of those 300 million payers will never even hear about the issue. This makes it very likely that the 1000 potential job-losers will prevail in their attempt to stop the cuts. A similar argument says that shareholders in government contracting firms are also likely to prevail.

This explains why Congress, susceptible as it is to lobbying efforts, doesn't cut spending. But small government advocates should resist these pressure groups as a matter of principle. Why are so many of them being swayed by these arguments?

I think the answer is that many of them aren't really advocates of small government. They are just using the small government position to advance other interests or agendas that are not themselves in conflict with most specific instances of wasteful spending.
5.8.2005 12:34pm
David Beito (mail) (www):
A key part of the answer is pretty basic. Pro-war conservatives and libertarians have ultimately decided to give Bush slack on this issue because they believe that the "war on terror" trumps all.
5.8.2005 3:28pm
Robert Schwartz (mail):
Is this really that hard to understand. First, American Politicians are not idealogues. They adopt positions the way lonley old ladies adopt stray cats, and abandon them the way gamblers dump losing hands. We note the current senatoral do-se-do on fillibusters. Those who hated them in the 90s now praise them as the ancient guardians of our liberty and those who used them in the 90s now declare them unconstitutional menaces to the saftey of the republic.

The real interst of American Politicians is in winning and holding power. All else pales. They are not men who are inclined to think that words have any fixed meaning or useage. They say what sounds good and do what se3ems to be expedient.

The party in power gets to spend money. Spending money is fun and it can be a winning political strtegy, particularly in modern America where the MSM has spent the last 3/4 century fetishizing spending money as the primary purpose of the national government. Roosevelt came to power in 1932 on a platform of fiscal rectitude, it lasted less than a minute after he took office with big majorities in both houses.

The party out of power cannot take credit for spending money so they depreciate it and discover the virtues of balanced budgets and governmental thrift. The party out of power will always deride the imprudence of the party in power and claim it is leading the coutry to rack and ruin.

The Current Administration responded to its election and circumstances as could be expected. It enacted wasteful spending programs such as NCLB and the Medicare drug benefit, and imprudent tax cuts.

In all fairness not all of the federal budget deficit of 2001-2003 is their fault. Most of the revenue decline was due to the collapse of the stock market bubble that was in train well before the 2000 election and the defense increases were ocassioned by the excigencies of history. Further the new programs mentioned have yet to have made any real impact on spending. Nor can the Administration be mulcted with the operation of the programs (Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, etc.) which are the real drivers of Federal Spending. It is an enormous multi year task to bring those leviathans into harbor.

I voted for George Bush last year, but not with the expectation that it would produce fiscal prudence. I was and am far more concerned with foreign policy and judicial nominations than I am with the fiscal issues of the day. Those can be dealt with later at our lesiure. Terrorism and judicial tyranny will not wait. I would be happier if President Bush had shrunk the deficit and the size of government, but those are matters of prudence not principal.
5.8.2005 4:35pm
SupremacyClaus (mail):
This perplexity is eased by understanding the Immutable Hilarious Law of Political Irony (IHLPI). If you want to make the rich richer, bash welfare recipients, cut crime, and shrink government, you vote for ....? Clinton.

If you want to explode the Federal Register, increase the deficit, and entitlements such as humongous prescription benefits for chronically sick people who are not working, are dying, will not benefit from high tech medicine, you vote for ....? Bush.

If you want draconian tort reform, you vote for ....? John Edwards.

Very good.

Have a blessed day.
5.8.2005 6:28pm
Ged of Earthsea (mail):
When the Democrats get the clue that the libertarian (lifestyle + economics) majority is there to be had, this will get better. Not until then.
5.8.2005 8:02pm
I think another way to look at the issue is this: if Bush were to cut spending, what would he cut? Most of the federal budget is devoted to the military, Social Security, and Medicare. Cutting military spending is anathema to Republicans (all the more so post 9/11); Social Security is politically infeasible to cut, as our President is now discovering, as is Medicare.

The fact is that very few people support small government, except possibly in the abstract. They may like the idea of small government, but once that idea is concretized in terms of cuts to specific programs, they oppose it.
5.8.2005 9:13pm
According to a comparative analysis of other industrialized countries, we have a small government.

As Anton states, all there is there is military spending, social insurance, and medical safety-net programs. The rest put together is too small to make difference.

And the people want more government at the local level, resulting in the increasing state and local taxes. So the Republicans can't really do anything as a national party, except the sort of tax cutting that is risking the destabilization of the entire country.
5.9.2005 11:54am
David Beito (mail) (www):

You seem to be assuming that Bush wants to cut spending but pressure from below and other circumstances have forced his hand.

Please note that Bush had to go all out to use strong-arm tactics against reluctant Republicans to implement the biggest spending increase of all: the Medicare prescription bill. It was a program forced from above, not below.
5.9.2005 12:01pm
Some Random Guy (mail):
Ahem. Let's be honest, you're talking about NON-DISCRETIONARY SPENDING!!!!! You want to cut Social Security benefits? Medicare payments? Unemployment benefits? Etc?


But be straight with your readers, and don't blame the President for not dousing himself with gasoline and lighting a match just to make us happy. Sure, the drug bill was a reprehensible increase in spending. But it hasn't happened yet, at least not as far as Cato's report is concerned. They're looking at entitlement programs for which THE PRESIDENT DOES NOT PROPOSE AN ANNUAL BUDGET. These are spending items that go back many years and changing them not be preserving the "status quo", but radical reform that would carry nuclear repurcussions. The people bitching now should ask themselves if they think they'd be happier with a Democratic President and Congress, because hacking away at Social Security and Medicare would produce exactly that result.

Yes, I mean it. Be honest. If you look like a libertarian crank or liberal angler interested only in cheap shots, people would be right not to take you seriously.
5.9.2005 4:26pm
Ambrose (mail):
When I was a kid I was talking with the father of a friend, a lifelong Republican, who told me he was going to vote for a democrat for president. I was surprised and asked him why. He said, "All politicans steal, but it takes them about eight years to learn how. The republicans have been in for eight years. It's time to turn them out." Looks like maybe he was right.
5.9.2005 5:42pm
Petkov (mail):
let me assume a few things:
most of you are Americans, born and raised in good ol' US of A.
Most og you are conservatives or like to think of yoruself as concservatives.
end of asssumptions
You are simply ridicilous to any non American.
You want terrorism to stop? Simple. Get the fuck outta Iraq, and STOP supporting Israel. Why arent the other domocracies being attacked? because they are not doing what USA is doing. Stop meddinmlg in otuer countries' businesses and
you wont have anybody to be afraid of.

Next. Bush is calling himself conservative and is always talking about how he is not spending money but this report proves otherwise. The funniest part is he is spending money os Specific things such as military while cutting everything else. Why? Because it benefits his buddies and himself. Some of you rant about being honest. Well, you should try to do what you preach.
10.10.2005 8:27pm