Congress Must Use Bush Budget Levels as a Ceiling, Not a Floor

Having received President Bush??¢â???¬â???¢s proposal last month, Congress has now begun the process of writing its budget for the coming year. The President??¢â???¬â???¢s budget is the most restrained spending blueprint that he has offered yet. However, in past years, even when President Bush proposed larger budget increases, Congress still added on tens of billions of dollars in spending. For example, in the current budget year (which ends September 30th), federal outlays are projected to end up almost $80 billion above what the President requested.

In light of the explosive growth in federal spending during the past half-decade, it is imperative for Members of Congress to view the President??¢â???¬â???¢s budget as an amply-high ceiling rather than a floor as they write their own budget. The urgency for Congress to treat the President??¢â???¬â???¢s budget as a ceiling rather than a floor is clear from a brief review of budget trends:

  • The Office of Management and Budget estimates that total outlays for the current year will be a stunning 33% higher than outlays in 2001. So while 3.6% growth in the coming year would represent the smallest growth in spending since the Clinton years (many Republicans may wince that Bill Clinton has become a standard of frugality), it still would leave outlays 38% higher than in 2001.
  • Rapid spending growth has occurred all across the budget — not just in defense and homeland security. In fact, from 2001 through 2005, spending at the Department of Education will have grown at almost twice the rate of military spending. Spending at the Department of Agriculture will have skyrocketed up 40%. The Department of Energy??¢â???¬â???¢s expenditures will have jumped 36%. Spending at the Department of Labor will have risen by 26%. And on and on.

But even worse for taxpayers, Congress in 2003 enacted the Medicare prescription drug legislation, saddling future generations with trillions in unfunded liabilities. A procession of cost estimates for this new entitlement, issued subsequent to its passage, has given new meaning to the phrase ??¢â???¬?????shock and awe.??¢â???¬ 

Despite this troubling record, Washington special interests and public employee union-funded ??¢â???¬?????think tanks??¢â???¬  are trying to make the case that the President??¢â???¬â???¢s budget contains ??¢â???¬?????draconian cuts??¢â???¬  and represents a massive scaling back of government. Hopefully, these choruses of self-interested nonsense will not dissuade Congress from doing the right thing.

The spending excesses of recent years have eroded freedom and harmed the economy. Further, this profligacy has endangered President Bush??¢â???¬â???¢s entire agenda for the second term. The spending-driven deficits provide an easy excuse for big spenders in the House and Senate to oppose making tax relief permanent or to vote against enacting Social Security reform or overhauling the Tax Code.

So, as dramatic as it sounds, it is probably fair to say that lack of spending restraint has brought Washington to the brink of political stalemate on major portions of the President??¢â???¬â???¢s domestic agenda. Let??¢â???¬â???¢s hope Congress recognizes everything that??¢â???¬â???¢s riding on this year??¢â???¬â???¢s budget.


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