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?

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