NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

President Can't Affect Government Spending Much

November 9, 2000

Whoever wins the presidential election, he'll have much less say over how the $1.8 trillion federal budget is spent than campaign rhetoric on both sides suggested. First, just seven things make up 75 percent of what the government does:

  • Social Security eats up $430 billion.
  • Medicare and Medicaid cost $200 billion and $116 billion respectively.
  • Interest on the debt costs $220 billion.
  • The budget for defense is $294 billion, while for military and civil service pensions it's $79 billion.

And when Baby Boomers start retiring in another decade, the cost of the big health and retirement programs will skyrocket.

The leftover 25 percent for so-called discretionary domestic spending is what most Americans think of as "government": college loans, air traffic controllers, FDA inspectors and highway construction crews. So, as observers point out, unless Americans develop a taste for big new taxes or unless politicians have the nerve to cut popular programs, there won't be money for government to do much that it isn't already doing.

And the new president won't be able to do much about it.

Source: Matthew Miller, "President Has Little Fiscal Discretion," Dallas Morning News, November 8, 2000.


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