Meeting the President's Budget Levels?

President Bush and soon-to-be former Budget Director (now incoming Chief of Staff) Josh Bolten have made the claim that Bush has not vetoed a single spending bill because — while it has altered the specifics — Congress has held to the aggregate spending levels desired by the administration. As Bush said last month, “One reason why I haven’t vetoed any appropriation bills is because they met the benchmarks we’ve set."

This claim can easily be tested by comparing the spending total proposed by the President in the budget he sends to Congress at the beginning of the year with figures for total spending in that year after the books have been closed.

The numbers readily make clear that the Administration’s claim is an empty one. In every year of the Bush presidency, Congress has enacted spending at levels far in excess of what was proposed in the administration’s budget. Over the five-year period of 2002-2006, total federal spending exceeded President Bush’s budgets by a staggering $359 billion.

Total Federal Outlays: Fiscal Years 2002-2006
Bush Budget Request Versus Actual
(Figures in millions)

Fiscal Year Bush Request Actual Outlays Increase Over Bush Request
2002 $1,960,564 $2,011,153 $50,589
2003 $2,128,230 $2,160,117 $31,887
2004 $2,229,425 $2,293,006 $63,581
2005 $2,399,843 $2,472,205 $72,362
2006 $2,567,617 $2,708,677 $141,060
Total $359,479

Source: Office of Management & Budget.
Note that the figure for Actual Outlays for 2006 is an estimate.

If there was justification for the budget in any year to exceed President Bush’s spending request, it was fiscal 2002 (which ran from October 1, 2001, through September 30, 2002). The President proposed his budget many months prior to 9/11, yet Congress had to make a good number of spending decisions after the horrific attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. While Congress consequently added on funds for homeland security and the War on Terror based on the changed post-9/11 world, still the added spending pales in comparison to the amounts added in 2004, 2005, and 2006.

Some of this added spending is explained by the Administration’s legerdemain on Iraq — budgeting for the war by supplemental appropriations. But that only accounts for some of the overage, and anyway, Republicans (when they were in the minority) used to correctly argue that supplementals should be paid for through spending cuts elsewhere.

The trends show that not only has Congress blown past the President’s requested budget numbers, but it has done so by increasing amounts. This could very possibly be explained by Congress "learning" that the Bush Administration’s rhetoric about wanting to restrain spending will not be matched by any action (i.e., vetoes). Congress has come to realize that it has an almost totally free hand to spend as much as it wants.