Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The Expansion of Existing Federal Programs

I found this USA Today article from last week, interesting (hat tip: The Michael Medved Show). It seems to suggest that President Bush's biggest problem in the federal budget isn't expansion of government, but growth in pre-existing programs. The difficulty isn't that he's been Lyndon Johnson, spending like a drunken sailor. It's that he hasn't fought harder to cut existing, wasteful government programs that have been around for years.

Last Thursday, Congress increased the national debt ceiling upward to almost $9 trillion (an increase of $781 billion). From the AP:
The spending blueprint, approved 51-49, little resembles President Bush's proposal last month for the budget year that begins Oct. 1. (On Deadline: What can you buy with $9 trillion?)

To the disappointment of budget hawks, the Senate's measure would break Bush's proposed caps on spending for programs such as education, low-income heating subsidies and health research. All told, senators endorsed more than $16 billion in increases above Bush's proposed $873 billion cap on spending appropriated by Congress each year.

This has been a pattern throughout President Bush's presidency, where he will submit a budget in an attempt to control spending, and Congress will spend more and more and more.

I see entitlement programs as a huge problem in the spending. The prescription drug plan was probably a huge mistake (it would have happened anyway, as Democrats would have imposed it as a part of medicare); but other than that and military/national security spending, where else has President Bush been responsible for actually expanding upon new government programs? He may not be a fiscal conservative (and an argument can be made that neither was President Reagan), but neither is he a record spending Lyndon B. Johnson.

Federal aid programs expand at record rate
By Dennis Cauchon, USA TODAY

A sweeping expansion of social programs since 2000 has sparked a record increase in the number of Americans receiving federal government benefits such as college aid, food stamps and health care.

A USA TODAY analysis of 25 major government programs found that enrollment increased an average of 17% in the programs from 2000 to 2005. The nation's population grew 5% during that time. (Related: Federal entitlements have changed)

It was the largest five-year expansion of the federal safety net since the Great Society created programs such as Medicare and Medicaid in the 1960s.

Spending on these social programs was $1.3 trillion in 2005, up an inflation-adjusted 22% since 2000 and accounting for more than half of federal spending. Enrollment growth was responsible for three-fourths of the spending increase, according to USA TODAY's analysis of federal enrollment and spending data. Higher benefits accounted for the rest.

The biggest expansion: Medicaid, the health care program for the poor. It added 15 million beneficiaries over five years to become the nation's largest entitlement program.

Not a factor: Social Security and Medicare. Those retirement programs will not see their enrollment explode until 79 million baby boomers start to become eligible for Social Security in 2008 and Medicare in 2011.

Programs that grew over the past five years are aimed at the under-65 population, especially families earning less than $40,000 a year. For example, the number of mostly low-income college students receiving Pell grants rose 41% over five years to 5.3 million.

Robert Greenstein, head of the liberal Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, says the growth in the number of people in many programs is due to a rise in the poverty rate from 11.3% in 2000 to 12.7% in 2004, the most recent year available. "It's certainly better that people falling into poverty can get Medicaid, but I'd prefer fewer poor people and employers not dropping medical coverage," he says.

Rep. Gil Gutknecht, a conservative Republican from Minnesota, says the number of people in entitlement programs should not be growing when unemployment is near a record low. "It's probably time to revisit food stamps and its goals and costs," says Gutknecht, chairman of the subcommittee that oversees food stamps. Food stamp enrollment climbed from 17.2 million in 2000 to 25.7 million in 2005.

USA TODAY found three major causes for soaring enrollment in government programs:

•Expanded eligibility: Congress has expanded eligibility for programs in ways that attracted little attention but added greatly to the scope and cost of programs. Congress added food stamp eligibility for 2.7 million people by ending a rule that disqualified people from receiving food stamps if they had a car or truck worth $4,650 or more. The change, one of a series of expansions in 2001 and 2002, was designed to make it easier for food stamp recipients to work.

•Increased participation: The government has made applying for benefits easier, prompting more eligible people to get them. Forms have been shortened, office visits reduced and verification streamlined.

•Welfare reform: 996 overhaul pushed millions of people off cash assistance and into the workforce. Congress expanded eligibility for benefits to support people with low-wage jobs.


Blogger Mike's America said...

Uncontrolled government spending (most of which is wasted) is the greatest disappointment of the Republican lead congress.

I understand that for the handful of Democrat votes we need for such important stuff like the Patriot Act we have to give Democrats some of the social spending they want. But it's a shame we can't win our arguments based on their merits, not horsetrading.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006 8:12:00 PM  
Blogger Marie's Two Cents said...

I'm in agreement with the above poster. I wish President Bush would have used his veto power a few times when these bills congress send up to him are passed right off the get go with all the pork barrel spending included.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006 11:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree that Congress goes on spending sprees and W gets the blame. I also agree with Marie, where's the veto pen been? The spending has been disgraceful.

Thursday, March 23, 2006 11:51:00 AM  

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