NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Leave The Surplus In Washington And It Will Be Spent

February 28, 2001

Budget analysts note that Congress has gone on a three-year bipartisan spending binge that threatens to swallow up federal surpluses even before they are allowed to appear. If taxes aren't cut, they predict, the results will be even bigger government bloat.

Here's what has happened:

  • In fiscal year 1996 -- when Congress still believed in fiscal restraint -- federal discretionary spending actually fell.
  • But in fiscal year 1998, annual discretionary outlays hit $284 billion -- and then began climbing to this year's $345 billion.
  • That's an average increase of more than 6 percent a year -- and more than 7.2 percent in each of the past two years, despite an inflation rate averaging a mere 2.4 percent a year.
  • Experts caution that even that is understated, because when the surplus appears greater than expected as the end of a fiscal year approaches, Congress increases spending and adds it to the so-called budget "baseline" for the next year.

This process masks the size of each year's actual spending increase.

The Congressional Budget Office says that "legislation enacted since July would push up spending by $561 billion" over the next decade. So in just a few months work last year, Congress managed to find new ways to spend more than one-third of the cost of President George W. Bush's tax cut.

Critics point out that the big spenders in Congress are the same ones that claim Bush's tax cut is "too large."

Source: Editorial, "The Spending Boom," Wall Street Journal, February 28, 2001.

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