George Bush, the Fiscal Conservative?

by Harry Browne

October 12, 2004          

In last week's presidential debate, George Bush said:

Non-homeland, non-defense discretionary spending was raising at 15 percent a year when I got into office. And today it's less than 1 percent, because we're working together to try to bring this deficit under control.

We can ignore his poor grammar, but we should note that once again he's playing fast and loose with the truth. Spending — defense or non-defense, discretionary or mandatory, unneeded or unneeded —— is rising at an extraordinary clip.

Mr. Bush also went to great lengths to make fun of John Kerry, saying: "And here he says he's going to be a fiscal conservative, all of a sudden. It's just not credible. You cannot believe it."

Well, John Kerry says many things that we shouldn't believe. But George Bush also says a great deal that we shouldn't believe.

Talk about Big Spenders

George Bush is a first-class spender. And he doesn't have a Democratic Congress to blame for it. In fact, he doesn't have anyone but himself to blame for it — since he hasn't vetoed a single bill.

I believe that modern Presidents spend far, far too much on the military — since it goes for national offense, rather than national defense. This leaves America undefended at home while U.S. troops run around the world enforcing the reckless wishes of American Presidents.

But I realize I'll get arguments from people if I include military spending in any comparisons of American Presidents.

So let's look at the yearly non-military spending by Presidents since Franklin Roosevelt.

Yearly Growth in Non-Military Spending




Franklin Roosevelt

+ 9.6%

+ 6.7%

Harry Truman

+ 8.8%

+ 3.5%

Dwight Eisenhower

+ 9.1%

+ 7.6%

John Kennedy

+ 9.6%

+ 8.3%

Lyndon Johnson

+ 9.9%

+ 6.7%

Richard Nixon


+ 8.6%

Gerald Ford


+ 6.2%

Jimmy Carter


+ 2.7%

Ronald Reagan

+ 6.2%

+ 2.1%

George H.W. Bush

+ 7.4%

+ 3.5%

Bill Clinton

+ 4.2%

+ 1.6%

George W. Bush

+ 6.2%

+ 3.8%

On an inflation-adjusted basis, the biggest spenders were:

Richard Nixon + 8.6%
John Kennedy + 8.3%
Dwight Eisenhower + 7.6%
Franklin Roosevelt + 6.7%
Lyndon Johnson + 6.7%

The smallest spenders were:

Bill Clinton + 1.6%
Ronald Reagan + 2.1%
Jimmy Carter + 2.7%
George H.W. Bush + 3.5%
Harry Truman + 3.5%

It's interesting that George W. Bush is increasing non-military spending at over twice the speed of Bill Clinton — that great bκte noire of all good conservatives.

It's also interesting that three of the top five spenders were Democrats, but also three of the lowest five spenders were Democrats.

Unfiscal Nonconservatism

By accusing John Kerry of posing falsely as a fiscal conservative, Bush implied that Bush himself is a fiscal conservative. Is he?

Total federal government spending in the first three years of the Bush administration has risen by 24.4% — the equivalent of 7.6% per year.

Bush blames this runaway spending on 9/11 and the need for greater homeland "security." But he isn't handling this situation in a fiscally conservative manner.

If you suddenly have extraordinary expenses to bear, what do you do? You either withdraw some money from savings or you find a way to reduce other spending in order to accommodate the new expenditures.

The federal government has no savings (unless you count the grossly underfunded Social Security trust fund). Thus the only fiscally conservative possibility is to reduce other spending.

Bush brags that he's reduced the rate of growth in "discretionary" spending (items that aren't locked into the budget) to 1% per year. But why isn't he reducing discretionary spending by 5%, 10%, or more each year — in order to accommodate the new so-called anti-terrorism expenditures?

The reason is that he doesn't have to. It isn't his money that's at stake. All he has to do is extract more resources from the taxpayers.

The idea that Bush's "tax cuts" have lightened the cost of government on Americans is nothing more than a con man's sleight-of-hand. The federal government is spending well over $2 trillion per year. Where is the $2 trillion coming from? The Russians? Martians?

Of course not. It isn't even coming from our children and grandchildren. It's coming from us.

When the government spends $2 trillion, it extracts $2 trillion worth of resources from society — resources that otherwise would have been available to us. We pay more for what we need and we go without more, because of the government's avarice.

Tax cut my foot.


So anyone who thinks we have to elect a Republican in order to keep those big-spending Democrats out of the White House just hasn't been paying attention.

There really isn't any difference between the two major presidential candidates. If you choose to vote for one over the other, you are endorsing big government — and you shouldn't be surprised when that's exactly what you get.

As always, for me the two choices are not vote Republican or vote Democrat. The choices are vote Libertarian or don't vote at all.


{The spending growth rates were calculated from data published by the U.S. government in Historical Statistics of the United States from Colonial Times to 1970, table Y467, page 1115; in the Statistical Abstract of the United States, 1997, and in various issues of Economic Indicators. The calculation for each President begins with the fiscal year starting during his first year in office and ending with the fiscal year that ends shortly after leaving office. Spending for George W. Bush is the yearly rate for three years only, through the fiscal year 2004, since we don't know what the inflation rate will be for 2005.}