We can cut the deficit in half if Congress “is willing to make tough choices,” says President George W. Bush.  We are doomed.

Not that President Bush intends to make tough choices: His policy is borrow and borrow, spend and spend.  When Bush took the oath of office, the Congressional Budget Office projected a cumulative surplus of $5.6 trillion from 2002 to 2011.  The CBO now foresees a deficit of $2.9 trillion over the same period.  Even when he was challenging Congress to “make tough choices,” President Bush was proposing to spend more on the National Endowment for the Arts, pushing for passage of the bloated “No Lobbyist Left Behind” energy bill, urging approval of a $1.2 billion loan to renovate the U.N. headquarters, and planning to wait until after the election to advance a supplemental appropriation to fund the occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Other than tax policy, President Bush’s budget probably differs little from what would have been proposed by a President Al Gore.  Politics, not principle, dominates.  As budget analysts Veronique de Rugy and Tad DeHaven observe,


Even the tax cuts, which happened to be good policy, were still political in nature considering their appeal to the Republicans’ conservative base.  At the same time, the politicos running the Bush reelection machine have consistently tried to placate or silence the liberals and special interests by throwing money at their every whim and desire.

Since even Republicans can borrow only so much, future tax hikes are likely, whether under a President John Kerry or under a reelected President Bush.

Conservatives once fought passionately to preserve the United States as a limited, constitutional republic.  No longer.  Many “conservative” Republicans now view themselves as the party of government.  That means constant war and massive social engineering abroad and vast new social programs and regulatory regimes at home—though only in the promotion of conservative ends, of course.

Americans for Tax Reform figures that “Cost of Government Day” (COGD) in 2003 fell on July 11—the day when American taxpayers finally finished subsidizing government at all levels: taxes, budget deficits, and regulatory costs.  Since 2000, COGD has advanced 17 days.  The increase in 2003 alone was five days.  The jump under President George W. Bush is matched only by the rise under his father a decade before.

The principal reason is spending.  Forget Bush’s conservative rhetoric.  Overall expenditures rose 7.9 percent in 2002 and 7.3 percent in 2003; the average from 1993 to 2001 was 3.4 percent.  Over Bush’s first three years, federal spending increased 2.5 times faster than national income.  As a share of Gross Domestic Product, federal spending has gone from 18.6 to 20.5 percent.  If outlays had matched national income, the deficit would be only $70 billion, compared with $477 billion last year.

So-called discretionary outlays, which are most easily controlled, are up 39 percent under the current Bush administration.  Despite the growing clamor for fiscal restraint, they will rise nine percent this year.  Adjusted for inflation, increases under Bush trail only those of Lyndon B. Johnson in the last 40 years.  Real, nondefense discretionary outlays were up 23 percent during Bush’s first three years.  In contrast, during the first three years of the Clinton administration, domestic discretionary outlays increased just 2.4 percent annually.

Stephen Moore of the Club for Growth figures that “under President Bush inflation-adjusted domestic discretionary spending has grown faster than under any other president in 40 years.”  That is 8.2 percent in Bush’s first three years, compared with 8.0 percent under Gerald Ford, 6.8 percent under Richard Nixon, and 4.3 percent under Johnson.  At least Gerald Ford fought to cut spending, penning vetoes that were overridden.  George W. Bush has signed everything that has reached his desk.

The administration blames the “War on Terrorism,” but even that money was not always well used.  Of outlays classified as homeland security, observed the Washington Post, much “is funding projects with questionable connections to homeland security.”  Cash went for a jobs program, for a fire boat, to purchase leather jackets, to assess land for redevelopment, and to underwrite janitorial services.  Can anyone spell pork?

Even without Bush’s large hikes in defense spending—34 percent between 2001 and 2003—America already had the largest military on earth.  Alas, most U.S. deployments—in the Balkans, Japan, Korea—are expensive security black holes.  Washington needs better intelligence, not bigger forces, to combat Al Qaeda.

Added to war around the globe are lengthy occupations and attempts at nation-building—international social engineering on a massive scale.  Despite a half century of failure, the administration came up with the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA), a special foreign-aid fund administered outside of the Agency for International Development.  Naturally, no other assistance programs were terminated.

The cost of the MCA is a pittance, however, compared with the escalating expense of our occupation of Iraq.  The President demanded from a skeptical Congress $20.3 billion to lavish on a society that is ill-equipped to spend a fraction of that amount.  He wanted money to buy garbage trucks, repair wetlands, and create postal ZIP codes; money to teach Iraqis about business and fund “women’s leadership programs,” whatever they are.  He even included one million dollars for a museum to commemorate Saddam Hussein’s crimes.  How does this differ from a liberal Democrat’s ideal foreign-aid program?

Moreover, the administration demanded that the entire amount be a gift, not a loan.  The President even threatened to veto his own appropriations request if Congress failed to comply.  On behalf of the administration whose war thoroughly destabilized the region and put America’s troops at risk, OMB Director Joshua Bolten argued that “Including a loan mechanism slows efforts to stabilize the region and to relieve pressure on our troops.”

Even if the aftermath of September 11 required substantial spending increases in some areas, that merely made it more imperative for the President and Congress to cut outlays elsewhere.  Yet, says Brian Riedl of the Heritage Foundation, “over half of all new spending since 2001 is unrelated to defense and the 9/11 attacks.”  By last year, these outlays were up by 11 percent, “their fastest rate in nearly a decade.”  There has been an 85-percent increase in money for unemployment compensation, a 65-percent hike for education, a monstrous $180 billion in agricultural subsidies, expensive new foreign-aid programs, a huge visitors’ center for Capitol Hill (the price of which has escalated from $71 million to more than half a billion dollars), and nearly $100 billion in proposed pork-barrel energy subsidies.

Of course, Democratic presidential candidates have offered a raft of new spending proposals, and Democratic legislators remain addicted to boundless federal outlays.  Yet President Bush proposed even more expensive initiatives in his State of the Union Address—a Mars expedition, money for marriages, new education spending, more cash for the National Endowment for Democracy.

Republicans have proved more adept than Democrats at filling appropriations bills with wasteful, special-interest pork.  The 2004 appropriations bills included an incredible 10,000 “earmarks”—five times the number just five years ago—in which Congress bypassed federal agencies in handing out grants.  There is money for local museums, police athletic leagues, children’s golf, a replica mule barn, libraries, children’s sports programs, an indoor rain forest, roads, bike paths, colleges, and more.  Rep. Jim Gibbons (R-NV) procured—I am not making this up—$225,000 to fix a swimming pool whose drain, he explained, he had clogged with tadpoles when he was ten years old.

Even more appalling, Republicans no longer fight for policies they advocated just a decade ago.  For instance, President Bush is a fan of AmeriCorps, the Clinton program of paid “voluntarism” enacted over the opposition of the GOP.  Even at a time of supposed budget stringency, the President wants a 15-percent increase in the National Endowment for the Arts, which should not be a function of the national government.  The cost, though not the quality, of federal education programs continues to rise.

Facing rising criticism from within GOP ranks (obviously not all conservatives received the memo forbidding criticism of the President), the Bush White House has proclaimed its commitment to fiscal responsibility.  President Bush told Tim Russert on Meet the Press that his fiscal critics simply were “wrong” in calling him “the biggest spender in American history.”  His administration now intends to cut the deficit—projected to run $521 billion next year—in half over the next five years.  He failed to mention that the government was running a surplus when he took office.

After campaigning and governing for years without mentioning a single program that he wanted to eliminate, the President now says 65 of 10,000 federal initiatives should go.  Another 63 should be cut sharply.  That, however, is barely a start: After all, these cuts would collectively save just $4.9 billion in a budget that will run at least $2.4 trillion.  And as Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) points out, many of these initiatives have received hefty increases (and lavish administration endorsements) in recent years, so there is much to cut.  Moreover, when Congress approved a $328-billion omnibus spending bill in January, President Bush accepted it with nary a peep about the pork with which it was larded.

The Bush administration has suggested slowing the growth of domestic discretionary outlays.  The President will have to fight to make that promise a reality, however, which seems unlikely since the administration has previously refused to take any responsibility for its actions: OMB Director Bolten claims that “extraordinary challenges confronting America” caused the exploding deficit.

Yet the President has requested many of the budget increases approved by Congress.  Indeed, the administration has often expressed worries about too little spending.  For instance, when the appropriations bill for the bloated Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education came before the House last July, the administration was not happy.

In a letter to Congress, the OMB complained about inadequate spending on Pell Grants for colleges; on the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program; on a herd of special-interest education programs; on drug treatment, HIV/AIDS programs, child mentoring initiatives, and parental group homes; and on AmeriCorps.  Not once did the OMB object that too much money was allocated.

Claiming that the 2005 budget is fiscally responsible, Bolten employs the usual budget tricks.  For instance, he has carefully chosen his numbers, citing “authorizations” rather than actual outlays to minimize apparent spending.  Expenditures for 2005 were effectively dumped into the 2004 supplemental appropriation, reducing the apparent increase this year.  Unattained (and unattainable) management “efficiencies” are expected to yield financial savings.  Reductions are proposed in programs that Congress will never cut.  The budget does not include money for operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, which have been running about a billion dollars per week—that will come in a supplemental appropriation after the election.  There is even a “contingent offset,” or what Ronald Reagan’s OMB director David Stockman once called a “magic asterisk,” citing future budget savings yet to be identified.

The out-years are even scarier.  The new Medicare drug benefit will run at least two trillion dollars in its second decade, and its price will steadily increase with the number of retirees.  Comptroller General David Walker recently warned that adding up reported liabilities, the looming Medicare and Social Security deficits, and future veterans’ healthcare costs yields an unfunded liability in the tens of trillions of dollars.  “Stated differently,” Walker adds, “they are likely to exceed $100,000 in additional burden for every man, woman and child in America today, and these amounts are growing every day.”

The number of federal employees—and the number of them earning more than $130,000 per year—is also up.  And the Bush administration is as enthusiastic about regulating as it is about spending.  In his State of the Union Address, the President spent as much time demanding the eradication of steroids from sports as he did explaining the lack of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.  Analyst Clyde Wayne Crews reports in his annual “Ten Thousand Commandments” that, in 2002, the Federal Register devoted 75,606 pages to regulations—more than in 2000, Bill Clinton’s last year in office.

Despite his pretensions to being a conservative, President Bush is no supporter of limited, constitutional government.  He has come to represent the old Scoop Jackson wing of the Democratic Party, which offered avid support for the ever growing welfare-warfare state.  And the President is apparently frustrated by the growing resistance to his borrow-and-spend politics.  One Republican strategist worried that the deficit was limiting Bush’s “ability to have new things to talk about in 2004.”  In other words, the President has no program other than bigger, more expensive government.

The Republicans have begun to look like the corrupt Democratic gang they displaced from control of Congress a decade ago.  Then-insurgent Republican leader Newt Gingrich attacked Democrats for seeing “no contradiction between adding a billion and a half dollars in pork-barrel [spending] for the politicians in their big-city machines and voting for a balanced budget amendment.”  Today, the former House Speaker endorses the mammoth Medicare bill and says nothing as GOP members toss pork to all the usual suspects while promising to slash the deficit.

The parties differ only on taxes.  Perhaps the President’s most important achievement today is his tax cuts.  How durable will they prove, however, when he and his party advocate increasing spending on just about every government program?  “Evidently the word ‘tomorrow’ no longer exists in the vocabulary of otherwise responsible members of Congress,” observes former Sen. Warren Rudman (R-NH).

Tomorrow, however, will come, as GOP leaders once acknowledged.  Then-Majority Whip Tom Delay declared in 1995 that, “By the year 2002, we can have a Federal Government with a balanced budget, or we can continue down the present path towards total fiscal catastrophe.”  Guess which way we are going—under a Republican President and Congress.

Cutting spending will become “a part of the mantra” of the Bush administration, says Treasury Secretary John Snow.  Republicans love to proclaim their commitment to fiscal responsibility, especially in April.  The true measure of government, however, is spending.  And now everyone in Washington, Republicans and Democrats alike, is for bigger, more expansive, and more expensive government.  Increased taxes are sure to follow.