The Return of the Living Dead: Federal Programs That Survived the Republican Revolution

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The 106th Congress is well on its way to becoming the largest‐​spending Congress on domestic social programs since the late 1970s when Jimmy Carter sat in the Oval Office and Thomas “Tip” O’Neill was Speaker of the House. Total federal nondefense spending is estimated to grow in real terms by $33 billion, or 11 percent, from 1999 to 2001 under the budget resolution approved by Congress in April 2000. And this is undoubtedly a “best‐​case” scenario: as the election gets closer, Congress and the White House are almost certain to add billions more to a budget crammed with special‐​interest spending for just about every constituency in Washington – from farmers, to environmentalists, to road builders, to the teachers’ unions and universities.

A major reason for all the new spending is the inability or unwillingness of Republicans to eliminate virtually any government program. Many of the more than 200 programs that the Republicans pledged to eliminate in 1995 in their “Contract with America” fiscal blueprint now have fatter budgets than they had before the changing of the guard.

Overall federal expenditures for 95 of the largest “living‐​dead” programs have risen a total of 13 percent since 1994. Many of President Clinton’s favorite programs have received substantial budget increases, often in excess of what the president has proposed.

Congress has violated its own “spending caps” virtually every year as well. Comparison of actual spending from 1996 to 2000 with the original expenditure targets set in 1995 reveals that excess spending over the baseline totals $187 billion. Even after the budget caps were renegotiated upward in 1997, Congress still managed to exceed the revised budget cap for the following years by a total of more than $40 billion.

The growth in living‐​dead programs is part of an overall budget expansion. From fiscal year 1998 to FY 2000, nondefense domestic spending has grown by more than 14 percent, after adjusting for inflation.

In Washington, D.C., today there is a consensus in the White House and Congress that the era of big government is here to stay.

Stephen Moore and Stephen Slivinski

Stephen Moore, currently on leave, is director of fiscal policy studies and Stephen Slivinski is a fiscal policy analyst at the Cato Institute.