- Cato Institute -
In November, the Congressional Budget Office released final budget numbers for fiscal year 2009. The numbers allow us to take a final look at the Bush administration’s record on spending from a statistical point of view.
The following three charts show annual average real (or constant dollar) outlays during the tenures of recent presidents. Presidents were in office for either 4 or 8 budget years, except JFK (3 years), LBJ (5 years), Nixon (5 years), and Ford (3 years).
The last year of spending that President George W. Bush was responsible for was fiscal 2009. The CBO says that outlays that year were $3.522 trillion. However, $108 billion was spending from the 2009 economic stimulus package, according to the CBO, which Bush was not responsible for. So I have assigned Bush responsibility for spending $3.414 trillion in 2009.
Spending in Bush’s first year (FY2001) was $1.863 trillion, thus he presided over an 83-percent increase in overall federal spending–defense, domestic, entitlements, and interest. By contrast, total spending under eight years of President Clinton increased just 32 percent. These are simply the overall nominal increases.
Now let’s look at the real annual averages. Figure 1 shows the average increase in total spending under recent presidents. The biggest spenders were Ford, LBJ, and Bush II. Of course, presidents share spending power with Congress and it’s easier for presidents to control discretionary spending than entitlement spending. Nonetheless, the results in these charts reflect the general spending approach taken by the presidents quite well. For example, Bush II was instrumental in adding the Medicare drug benefit, and by 2009 this program was adding more than $60 billion a year to federal spending.
Figure 2 shows total federal spending without interest payments. Presidents have the least discretionary control over interest. The biggest spenders by this measure are again Ford, LBJ, and Bush II. Note that Bush’s record by this measure is worse than in Figure 1. That is because Bush lucked out with low interest payments due to low interest rates on the federal debt and the relatively low level of federal debt because of four years of surpluses under President Clinton.
Figure 3 is the most interesting chart. Here I have taken out both interest and defense spending from the total. So it includes domestic discretionary spending and so-called entitlement spending. In other words, this is mainly welfare state spending. By this measure, the five mid-century presidents had an awful record. These were the years of massive creation and expansion of federal subsidy programs for the elderly, the states, farmers, and many other groups.
The 1980 election of Ronald Reagan represented a revolt against the rapidly expanding welfare state, and for two decades the Republican Party seemed somewhat interested in slowing the growth in nondefense spending. Reagan’s record in Figure 3 of just 1 percent real growth over eight years was very impressive, at least relative to any other president in the last half century.
What about Bush II? Figure 3 shows that he was the biggest domestic spender since Ford. He set the stage for the current Obama adminstration, which seems devoted to the idea that increased government spending is the solution to all of society’s problems even though we are already running the largest budget deficits since World War II.