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Growth in federal spending unchecked

USA TODAY | April 3, 2006
By Richard Wolf

WASHINGTON — Federal spending is outstripping economic growth at a rate unseen in more than half a century, provoking some conservatives to complain that government under Republican control has gotten too big.

The federal government is currently spending 20.8 cents of every $1 the economy generates, up from 18.5 cents in 2001, White House budget documents show. That's the most rapid growth during one administration since Franklin Roosevelt.

RELATED: How federal spending has climbed since 2001

There are no signs that the trend is about to turn around. The House Budget Committee last week rejected a proposal that would require spending hikes to be offset by cuts in other spending or by tax increases.

This week, the House is scheduled to debate the $2.8 trillion budget for 2007, which projects an additional $3 trillion of debt in the next five years.

The Sept. 11 attacks, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and Gulf Coast hurricanes account for only part of the increased spending.

Other factors: the biggest military buildup in decades, domestic spending, and the rise of benefits for the elderly, poor and disabled.

"You take anything, and we've grown it big," says Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., a leading critic of the spending spurt. "When you're in control of the presidency and both houses of Congress, there's just no stop on it. There's no brake."

Examples:

•Spending for President Bush's military buildup, which began before 9/11, has risen nearly 50% above inflation in five years.

•Medicare's new prescription-drug coverage is projected to cost an average of $80 billion a year over the next decade, adding nearly 20% to the health care program's annual price tag.

•Spending on social programs, from education to veterans health care, has risen faster than at any time since the 1960s.

"Budgeting is about making choices, and this period is one that shows a complete absence of that," says Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a Republican who stepped down last year as director of the Congressional Budget Office.

The White House points to recent domestic cuts and the elimination of scores of small programs. It says Bush has led efforts to trim Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

"By far the bulk of new funding — 75% of it — has been to restore the hollowed-out military the president inherited, strengthen homeland defenses after 9/11, and fight the war on terror," says Scott Milburn, spokesman for the Office of Management and Budget. "These are essential investments that were required ... to protect our nation."

The spending spike contrasts with the mid-1990s, when Republicans gained control of Congress and compromised with President Clinton on spending cuts that led to a $236 billion budget surplus in 2000.

"Republicans have gotten the sense that they're going to get elected by passing out money to people," says former Republican House Budget Committee chairman John Kasich.

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