Donald Lambro

WASHINGTON -- There's much to like in President Bush's 2007 budget proposals, which would slow the increase in overall federal spending to a little more than 2 percent. If Congress reduces spending to anywhere near this modest amount, it would be an astounding feat, especially in a hotly contested election year when lawmakers don't like voting for vote-killing budget cuts.

Total federal spending has been increasing by between 4 percent and 8 percent a year under Bush's presidency. Much of it is in response to huge catastrophic events that have cost a lot of money -- the terrorist attacks, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, homeland security, sharply higher defense spending and last season's devastating hurricanes.

But a lot of it was also due to greedy lawmakers who stuffed the budget with tens of billions of dollars in earmarked pork-barrel spending for their folks back home and lawmakers' collective failure to reform, eliminate or prune ineffective, wasteful, redundant or outdated programs.

Bush, too, must assume some responsibility for this because he refused to exercise his veto on spending bills that were filled with pork. (The recent highway authorization bill contained 6,371 earmarks costing $25 billion.)

The budget's growth during Bush's presidency has been breathtaking, It was close to $2 trillion when he came into office and has shot up like an Atlas rocket ever since.

In fiscal 2005, total spending was at $2.47 trillion and counting. By fiscal 2006 it surged to an estimated $2.71 trillion, triggering anger from Bush's conservative base that threatened to divide his party. White House political adviser Karl Rove warned in private that Bush had to be seen dealing with rising spending or risk erosion in the GOP's grassroots.

Bush is doing just that. His fiscal 2007 budget, which begins this Oct. 1, would raise overall spending to $2.77 trillion, a 2.3 percent increase.

If the Republican Congress can hold spending at this level, it would be the smallest one-year increase of his presidency and represent a sharp brake on future nondefense discretionary expenditures.

His budget's biggest discretionary spending increases (appropriations that are made each year) are for defense and homeland security, designed to keep us safe from another attack.

But he offsets these increases with cuts elsewhere in the government. Nine out of 15 Cabinet-level agencies would see net spending reductions, including Transportation, Justice and Agriculture. He would eliminate or scale back 141 programs for a savings of $14.5 billion.

Even a sacred cow like the National Institutes of Health would see its budget virtually frozen at this year's level after five years of increases.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.