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GWB Meet LBJ

by @ 5:51 pm on September 21, 2005. Filed under George W Bush, Politics, Republicans

Over at Reason, Nick Gillespie worries about the disturbing parallels between George W. Bush our last President from Texas

When presidents go lame, we all pay?those of us who voted for him, those of us who voted against him, and those of us who voted not at all. The poor in mud-soaked shacks along the Mississippi, the rich on the dry bluffs far above the water’s edge, and the middle class stuck somewhere in between?they’re on the hook too.

Indeed, the headlines from last Thursday’s primetime presidential address from the French Quarter in New Orleans underscored what I’m talking about. As CNN put it, “We Will Do What It Takes.” Which translates into: Bush and the GOP will spend whatever it takes to buy back alienated voters. Given the reckless (and near-record-setting) spending of the Republicans so far, that’s not exactly a new strategy. But it is likely to get super-charged as Congress finishes up the budget process for the next fiscal year.

That’s exactly the impression I got from the President’s speech last week. We’re going to be spending this money mostly because of the fact that the administration has taken a political hit over the response to Katrina. Given the climate, it is certain that little consideration will be given to whether the money is being spent in a way that makes sense.

It’s a sad truth that all presidents in recent memory?from Lyndon Johnson on?have boosted inflation-adjusted total spending every term they’ve served, ranging from a low of 4.2 percent for Bill Clinton in his first four budgets to a high of 35.8 percent for LBJ. Since total spending includes “mandatory” spending on entitlements, it’s not the best measure for calculating a particular president’s ability or willingness to cut spending.

For that, look to discretionary spending?which is made up of defense and all other non-entitlement spending. When you stick to discretionary spending, a slightly different, but hardly better, picture emerges. Richard Nixon, for instance, cut total discretionary spending 15.2 percent, the first George Bush cut it by 3.2 percent, and Bill Clinton by 8 percent in his first term (all three accomplished this by reducing defense spending). Other than that, it’s always been onward and upward. Even Ronald Reagan boosted discretionary spending in both of his terms?by 8.2 percent in the first and 7 percent in the second.

And where does Bush stand in contrast to his predecessors ?

Those figures come by way of the American Enterprise Institute’s Veronique de Rugy, who has calculated that George W. Bush has boosted total inflation-adjusted discretionary spending in his first term by 35.1 percent. To put that in context, chew on this: LBJ?the Texas legend who created the Great Society and, for all intents and purposes, the Vietnam War?only boosted discretionary spending 33.4 percent. What’s more, the gap between Bush and LBJ will only grow

Ah yes, LBJ whose Great Society, combined with Vietnam, sent America into an econmic tailspin that didn’t end until the Reagan administration. If history is any guide, we should be okay by 2020 or so. Between now and then ? That’s another story.

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