September 5, 2002

September 5, 2002 | News Releases on Federal Budget

Congress About to Complete Record Spending Spree, Study Shows



As last year's budget surplus turned into this year's deficit, federal lawmakers were quick to blame the reversal of fortune on either the war on terrorism or last year's tax cut. But according to a new analysis from The Heritage Foundation, the main culprit is old-fashioned spending excesses.


Once the appropriations bills for the next fiscal year have been approved, the federal government is expected to have spent $782 billion more between 2000 and 2003 than in the previous four-year period, says Heritage budget expert Brian Riedl. The growth in federal spending over the last four years totals more than $5,000 per household, he notes.


Yet less than a quarter of that increase has gone for defense and less than a quarter of that figure-about $49 billion-can be attributed directly to the war on terrorism.


"This increase is a classic case of death by a thousand cuts," says Riedl, Heritage's Grover M. Hermann fellow in federal budgetary affairs. "Rather than one large item, such as the war on terrorism, the spending increases come from dozens of smaller items across several departments. By themselves they're more or less affordable, but together they're lethal."


Among the spending increases from FY 1996-'99 to FY 2000-'03 that Riedl cites are:

  • Agriculture
    Total four-year spending more than doubled, from $57 billion to $116 billion.

  • Health programs other than Medicare and Medicaid.
    Total four-year spending grew from $127 billion to $190 billion-a 50 percent increase.

  • Education.
    Total four-year spending increased 17 percent, from $128 billion to $150 billion.

And it's not just the big-ticket items, Riedl says. According to Riedl, many of the spending increases can be traced to numerous medium- and low-priority programs such as the Bureau of Export Administration, the Foreign Agriculture Service and the Neighborhood Investment Corporation.


"Worse, this spending surge is occurring at a time when interest payments will have dropped by $247 billion," Riedl says. "Starting out with such an automatic and painless spending cut means that budget cutters had the wind at their back for the first time in nearly 50 years." Yet Congress and the president squandered this "interest dividend," he says, racking up more than $1 trillion in new spending for an overall increase of $782 billion.


"This runaway spending is the predictable result of undisciplined policy-makers unable to set priorities and unwilling to say no to any special interest," Riedl says. "Unless Congress and the president make a concerted effort to cut back on spending, families will continue having difficulty making ends meet, and the economy will struggle under the suffocating weight of an ever-expanding federal government."

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