Rebecca Hagelin

How about defense spending? With the War on Terrorism in full swing, many people assume we’re paying out quite a bit these days.

In fact, defense spending -- even with war costs factored in -- is well below the historical average. Today we’re spending less than 4 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) on defense. That’s only 1 percentage point higher than we were spending at the time of the Sept. 11 attacks. And it’s still below the 6.2 percent of GDP we were shelling out for defense during the waning years of the Cold War in the 1980s -- and significantly less than the 9.5 percent we spent in the late 1960s, at the height of the Vietnam War.

I’ll finish with one more gruesome example from the Heritage charts. It’s a media favorite: pork-barrel spending, or budget “earmarks.”

As you probably know, this practice of funding pet projects went up significantly over the last decade or so. Heritage’s chart book shows that the number of earmarks rose pretty steadily from 546 in 1991 to a high of 13,997 in 2005. Eventually, though, the practice became better known, thanks to Alaska’s “Bridge to Nowhere” and other infamous examples. Under public pressure, the number of earmarks dropped to 9,963 in 2006 and to 2,658 in 2007.

Case closed? Hardly. The number of earmarks in Fiscal Year 2008: 11,737. Looks as if the new congressional leadership has really learned its lesson, huh? Makes you long for the days of a president like Ronald Reagan, who vetoed the 1987 transportation bill because it contained a whopping 152 earmarks.

No doubt about it: The Heritage Foundation’s “2008 Federal Revenue and Spending Book of Charts” paints a grim picture. But it’s a necessary one. In a series of downloadable, easy-to-read charts, it shows how our tax money is being managed -- or should I say mismanaged? -- by our elected officials in Washington. If you want to ensure that you’re fully informed as you head to the polls this election year, there’s hardly a better way to … well, spend your time.

Rebecca Hagelin

Rebecca Hagelin is a public speaker on the family and culture and the author of the new best seller, 30 Ways in 30 Days to Save Your Family.
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