Hey big spender...

For years, people have spoken off the cuff that George W. Bush is the biggest-spending president since Lyndon Johnson.  Now we have the numbers to prove it.

“He’s a big government guy,” said Stephen Slivinski, the director of budget studies at Cato Institute, a libertarian research group.

The numbers are clear, credible and conclusive, added David Keating, the executive director of the Club for Growth, a budget-watchdog group.

“He’s a big spender,” Keating said. “No question about it.”

Take almost any yardstick and Bush generally exceeds the spending of his predecessors.

When adjusted for inflation, discretionary spending — or budget items that Congress and the president can control, including defense and domestic programs, but not entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare — shot up at an average annual rate of 5.3 percent during Bush’s first six years, Slivinski calculates.

That tops the 4.6 percent annual rate Johnson logged during his 1963-69 presidency. By these standards, Ronald Reagan was a tightwad; discretionary spending grew by only 1.9 percent a year on his watch.

Discretionary spending went up in Bush's first term by 48.5 percent, not adjusted for inflation, more than twice as much as Bill Clinton did (21.6 percent) in two full terms, Slivinski reports.

And for those who'd be quick to remind us that "there's a war on," war spending is not the whole story:

Brian Riedl, a budget analyst at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative research group, points to education spending. Adjusted for inflation, it's up 18 percent annually since 2001, thanks largely to Bush’s No Child Left Behind act.

That's the law that made mincemeat of the notion that Republicans were the party that wanted to keep Washington's hand out of the classroom.

The 2002 farm bill, he said, caused agriculture spending to double its 1990s levels.

That would be the same farm bill that undid the few free-market reforms enacted in the 1996 farm bill.

Then there was the 2003 Medicare prescription drug benefit — the biggest single expansion in the program’s history — whose 10-year costs are estimated at more than $700 billion.

That would be the law passed only after the House roll call was kept open for three hours instead of the standard 15 minutes so the White House could twist enough arms of recalcitrant Republicans to assure passage.  Oh, and that $700 billion figure?  That's far more than the White House advertised at the time.

And the 2005 highway bill, which included thousands of “earmarks,” or special local projects stuck into the legislation by individual lawmakers without review, cost $295 billion.

Yes, but the veto pen feels very, very heavy when you hope your party keeps control of Congress in the next election cycle.

It makes the whole dispute recently over that children's health care bill seem bizarre.  In the big scheme of things, the bill amounted to very little money… which was to come exclusively from a tobacco tax.  One suspects if a Republican Congress had passed the bill, this president would be having a signing ceremony with smiles and handshakes all around.  But because Democrats passed it, he feels compelled to draw a line in the sand.  Whatever.

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