GOP Congress Talks Lean but Carries a Fat Wallet: Spending Is Rising More with Republicans Than Democrats

Article excerpt

Republican lawmakers like to promote themselves as fiscal conservatives, but the nearly completed budget for fiscal 2000 shows that the Republican-led Congress is no better at controlling spending than the Democrats.

When Congress and the White House put the finishing touches on the federal budget next week, discretionary spending is expected to increase about 5.8 percent over last year. The Consumer Price Index this year has increased 2.6 percent.

The result is disappointing to conservative lawmakers such as Rep. Mark Sanford, South Carolina Republican, who nearly brought the House to a standstill this summer with Rep. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, in his fight to control spending.

"I think we played our card, and we lost this poker match," Mr. Sanford said. "This particular game is pretty much over. The bottom line is we haven't had the votes."

There are fewer conservatives in Congress this year than in either of the past two Congresses, and Republicans in the House have only a five-vote majority.

"People hear it's a Republican Congress and just assume we have a conservative majority, and we don't," said Rep. Steve Chabot, Ohio Republican, who has voted against several spending bills this year. "I'm not sure there's a whole lot more we could have done. It's a bit frustrating, because we're still spending too much money."

"This is not the outcome we were hoping for," said Michael Schwartz, administrative director for Mr. Coburn. "The appropriators have fed themselves another pork sandwich."

But this year is no exception for higher spending. In the past four years under a Republican-led Congress, federal discretionary spending has increased about 15 percent. By contrast, from 1990 to 1994, the last four years of a Democrat-led Congress, discretionary spending increased 8.6 percent.

"The culture of spending is a very tenacious virus," said Marshall Wittmann, congressional affairs director for the conservative Heritage Foundation. "It can withstand both Democratic and Republican Congresses. It underscores why you need a conservative president with a line-item veto. …