The president’s new budget calls for $2.77 trillion to be spent. That’s 45 percent more than President Clinton’s most bloated budget. Clearly the executive branch cannot be counted on to be fiscally sound. That leaves Congress.
I know: Cue rim shot.
But there are reasons for limited-government types to be guardedly optimistic. One of these reasons, oddly enough, is Senator Ted Stevens. While he won his battle in getting us to pay more than $400 million to build two bridges in remote parts of Alaska, the outrage he inspired could usher in real change.
The bridges are the chief inspiration behind the earmark reforms now being proposed. These concrete monuments to congressional tenure virtually guarantee that the $22 billion to be spent on earmarks this year will not be surpassed for some time, and may be substantially scaled back.
Senators Coburn and McCain have pledged to offer amendments to individually eliminate every earmark they find. With 13,999 earmarks passed last year, the Senators were right to call their threat potentially “time-consuming.”
A reasonable guess is that (a) some compromise will be reached and (b) earmarks will be cut in half — at least — for fiscal year 2007.
That’s good news, but earmarks account for less than 1 percent of total government spending. Even if they were to disappear completely, government would still continue to grow three times faster than it did under Bill Clinton, and more than twice as fast as under the first President Bush.
The cause of the Republican spending explosion has been the weed-like growth in entitlement spending. But even here we have some glittering good news. Due to the hue and cry about out of control spending, Senate Republicans have been shamed into reducing entitlement bloat from 6.4 percent to 6.3 percent over the next five years.
Of course, critics have claimed that this rounding error sized reduction is a “cut.” It’s one of those wearying fallacies that just doesn’t seem to go away. More money will be spent on entitlements this year than last year, and the increases will continue as far as the eye can see. It’s depressing to open the paper and see headlines like “Entitlements Cut: Set to Grow 6.3%.”
Despite the fierce resistance to such puny measures, there is reason for hope. For the first time in recent memory, many Republicans actually held their ground in passing the entitlement growth reduction, thanks to the outrageous Senator Stevens.
Now even President Bush, a bigger spender than Lyndon Johnson, wants to eliminate 91 federal programs. According to bean counters in the House Republican Study Committee, this would save taxpayers $7.3 billion. By my calculations this would save nearly one third of one percent of total federal spending.
It’s a start.
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