When the Republicans gained control ofCongress in 1994, they promised to eliminate thedeficit and reduce wasteful spending. For severalyears, the GOP partly upheld its commitment bymodestly curtailing spending growth and balancingthe budget.
Unfortunately, the balanced budgets of thelate 1990s created an "easy money" mindset inCongress, which began a spending spree that continuesunabated today. Total federal outlays willrise 29 percent between fiscal years 2001 and2005 according to the president's fiscal year 2005budget released in February. Real discretionaryspending increases in fiscal years 2002, 2003, and2004 are three of the five biggest annual increasesin the last 40 years. Large spending increases havebeen the principal cause of the government'sreturn to massive budget deficits.
Although defense spending has increased inresponse to the war on terrorism, President Bushhas made little attempt to restrain nondefensespending to offset the higher Pentagon budget.Nondefense discretionary outlays will increaseabout 36 percent during President Bush's firstterm in office. Congress has failed to contain theadministration's overspending and has addednew spending of its own. Republicans have clearlyforfeited any claim of being the fiscally responsibleparty in Washington.
Looking ahead, Republicans need to rediscoverthe reforming spirit that they brought toWashington after the landmark 1994 congressionalelections. Fiscally conservative Democratsshould challenge big-spending Republicans andwork to cut unneeded programs from both thedefense and nondefense parts of the budget.
In command of the White House, Senate, andHouse of Representatives, Republicans are primarilyresponsible for the current budget mess,and it is Republicans who have the power to pareback spending to get the federal budget undercontrol once again.