Magazine article Reason

How Bush Outspends LBJ

Magazine article Reason

How Bush Outspends LBJ

Article excerpt

Who could have predicted when he took office that George W. Bush would end up looking more like Lyndon Baines Johnson than his own father? But waist deep in the muck of his second term, Dubya is looking positively Johnsonesque: He fights an increasingly unpopular war, he has federalized education to an unprecedented degree, and his most important legacy so far is the prescription drug program that represents the biggest expansion of Medicare since LBJ created that inefficient behemoth back in the 1960s.

Here's more bad news: In his first term, Bush actually increased discretionary spending at a faster clip than the notoriously free-spending LBJ. Discretionary spending includes most defense spending and nonentitlement social programs; it's what the president and Congress decide to spend each year through appropriations bills. Because it could be theoretically zeroed out each year, such spending is the best measure of fiscal responsibility.

American Enterprise Institute budget analyst Veronique de Rugy calculates that in fiscal 1965-68, Johnson raised discretionary spending a whopping 33.4 percent. (All figures are adjusted for inflation and based on Office of Management and Budget data.) He jacked up nondefense discretionary spending 34.2 percent and defense spending 33.1 percent.

How does that stack up to spending by recent presidents? Over two terms, Ronald Reagan increased discretionary spending 15.3 percent, largely due to a 38 percent increase in defense spending. With the Cold War over, Papa Bush's cuts to the defense budget allowed him to reduce discretionary spending by 3. …

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