NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


May 28, 2004

Economist William Niskanen of the Cato Institute has observed that the rate of growth of federal spending is usually lower when control of the White House and Congress are in the hands of different parties, compared to spending when officials of one party control both.

Since 1953, he has found that, after adjusting for inflation:

  • Federal outlays grew fastest -- at 4.8 percent annually -- during the Kennedy-Johnson years, when Congress was under Democratic party control.
  • The second fastest rise has been during the first three years of the George Bush administration, with spending rising 4.4 percent.
  • The third fastest rise, at 3.7 percent a year, was during the Carter administration.

By contrast, when government has been divided, spending was restrained:

  • Spending under Ronald Reagan, during which the Democrats controlled the House and Republicans the Senate (for six of eight years), spending grew only 3.3 percent.
  • During the Nixon-Ford years -- with complete Democratic control of Congress -- spending grew only 2.5 percent, and only 0.4 percent annually during the Eisenhower administration.
  • And under the Clinton administration, with Republicans controlling Congress six years, spending rose only 0.9 percent annually.

How has the federal government done in terms of real domestic discretionary outlays, leaving out military and entitlement spending? According to Stephen Moore of the Club for Growth, spending has increased the most during the current Bush administration, rising 8.2 percent annually, followed by the Ford administration, at 8 percent.

Source: Doug Bandow (Cato Institute), "To Keep a Lid on Spending, Try Divided Government," May 28, 2004, Investor's Business Daily.


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