Conservative Spotlight: Citizens Against Government Waste


As impossible as it seems, non-defense federal government spending has been cut in the past. In October 1939, FDR told his budget director, Harold Smith, to control spending.

“But Roosevelt tells Smith he wants the departments, ‘held at the present level and below if possible, and all new works projects trimmed out,'” said recently departed Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Mitch Daniels in a speech Nov. 28, 2001. “November 1939-two years before the war, let’s recall-he tells Smith, ‘The administration will not undertake any new activities even if laudable ones.’ And a year later, as they prepared the next budget in November of ’40, Roosevelt told a press conference his policy for the next year would be to, ‘cut down to the bone on non-military purposes.’ Now they did. Between 1939 and 1942, spending on non-defense purposes in the federal government was cut by 22%, and by 37% within the next two years ’til 1944.”

FDR’s fiscal discipline is gone from Washington. Instead of restraining non-defense spending in order to pay for needed military spending increases, said Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) President Tom Schatz, the federal government has gone hog-wild. “9/11 has become an excuse to spend money on everything,” he said.

And so now, we face an astounding $480-billion deficit. Only 25% results from President Bush’s tax cuts. “In the last three years, federal spending has increased 22% to more than $2.2 trillion annually,” CAGW reported August 28. “Defense spending increased 34%, an understandable result given the need to protect the nation after September 11, but non-defense spending increased 28%. The period from 2000 to 2003 marked the biggest spending spree in U.S. history.”

“The interest on the national debt is now the third-largest item in the budget,” said Shatz. “It will average $320 billion to $350 billion annually for each of the next five years. Only Social Security and defense spending are bigger.”

Not only has spending in general ballooned since Republicans took control of both houses of Congress and the presidency, pork spending-wasteful nonsense desired for political reasons by politicians-has skyrocketed, said Shatz. “We now refer to Washington as the bi-partisan spending party,” he said. CAGW has a list of $180 billion in cuts that could be made immediately.

“The Civilian Conservation Corps, the Works Project Administration, the National Youth Administration, three hallmarks of the New Deal, were gone entirely by 1943. In 1939, they represented 13% of the federal budget; all gone four years later in the service- not because they were, I’m sure, deemed unimportant, but in the service of greater national needs,” said Daniels. “In today’s terms, that would be as though we propose to end the Medicare program, or alternatively to close up shop at HHS, the Department of Education, HUD, DOJ, Energy, Ag, Treasury, Interior and Labor combined.” Daniels noted that during the Korean War, too, non-defense spending dropped.

CAGW does not concern itself solely with big numbers but gets into the nitty-gritty of small, wasteful, and sometimes ideologically motivated spending items. A September 9 report by John E. Frydenlund criticizes the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) for a wasteful $500,000 study on underage drinking. “NAS failed to follow the intent of Congress, preordained the conclusions of a so-called ‘scientific’ panel in favor of higher excise taxes and advertising restrictions, and guaranteed that outcome by stacking the committee panel with anti-alcohol radicals,” says the report.

CAGW, which is divided into tax-exempt 501(c)3 and lobbying 501(c)4 organizations, also runs projects such as a petition to reduce the United States’ payments to the United Nations. Schatz said that Sen. John McCain (R.-Ariz.) is still the most aggressive and reliable anti-pork crusader in Congress. In the House, “Rep. Joel Hefley [R.-Colo.] is offering amendments to cut 1% out of each appropriations bill,” said Shatz. Asked if any of the amendments have a chance of passage, he replied, “No.”

Schatz said that it is easy to blame Congress for hiking spending and President Bush for doing little to oppose it, but noted, “Where is the public outcry? They would care if they thought that spending money would cost them their election.” He said that America’s exploding national debt was a sign not so much of her weak economy nor the need for her strong defense, but a decline in her character. Americans increasingly tend to favor “immediate self-gratification,” he said. “There is no sense of waiting for anything.” But, he said, the spending issue is starting to make a comeback. “We are starting to hear more about it,” he said. “People need to care about it for something to change.”

CAGW may be reached at 1301 Connecticut Ave. N.W., Suite 400, Washington, D.C. 20036. (202-467-5300; e-mail:; website: