We would like to say it’s shocking, but it really isn’t. As Brian Riedl, a budget analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said, “Congress’ natural inclination, regardless of party, is to spend money.”
Still, it is disheartening that some of the first reactions to President Bush’s budget proposal were Republicans complaining that modest, even minuscule reductions in some minor federal programs were “draconian” and “nonstarters.”
The contrast between 2005 and 1995, the first year after Republicans achieved a majority in Congress after promising a fiscally conservative Contract With America, could hardly be more stark.
Back then Republicans talked about abolishing entire federal departments. They still invoke the language of limited government.
Now a Republican president backed by Republican majorities in both Houses of Congress has presided over an enormous spending increase of 33 percent over four years. Now that he’s proposing a budget that actually reduces federal spending by 1 percent in some areas (the overall increase is still 3.6 percent). Bush has Republicans screaming that the sky will fall.
Not all Republicans, to be sure. It is partly due to complaining from a core group of congressional stalwarts that the administration proposed a budget with a modicum of fiscal discipline.
Or, as Grover T. Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, said, “The administration realized that one of the metrics by which an administration is judged is overall spending, and it had to control spending in a second term or be judged a failure.”
But what made the news early in a budget process still in the first inning were Republicans complaining about cuts.
Rep. John Peterson of Pennsylvania complained about “draconian” cuts in farm subsidies, and was joined in opposition to them by Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran of Mississippi and Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia. Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota, a former mayor, groused about a proposal to cut Community Development Block Grants, a notoriously pork-laden program.
Riedl noted the president to date has been fairly successful at bringing budgets through Congress that are pretty close to his overall target proposals, though minor changes in priorities are common.
Stephen Slivinski of the libertarian Cato Institute said, however, that the president might have to use his veto power — something he didn’t do a single time during his first term — to get budget discipline.
Numerous analysts have suggested the administration proposal to eliminate or cut back 150 agencies or programs, which has made it into most headlines, was unlikely to fare well in Congress.
Last year, the administration proposed to zero-out 65 programs, but Congress only went along with five.
Of course, there are many more places to cut. Corporate welfare costs taxpayers about $60 billion a year, according to Riedl, and waste, fraud and abuse account for another $100 billion.
Pure pork — spending a department didn’t even ask for but which was added by congressmen getting goodies for their districts — cost taxpayers about $20 billion this year.
Taxpayers appalled by all of this will have to exert grass-roots pressure to support spending cuts, said Norquist. “There’s a lobby in Washington for every spending program, but aside from us and a few others, no comparable lobby for spending less,” he said.