William F. Buckley

Fifty years ago, Sen. Paul Douglas of Illinois appeared in the Senate chamber lugging a huge manuscript. He plopped it on the rostrum and -- wept. Yes, he actually cried. Tears ran down his face. When he recovered, he addressed his colleagues.

"That," he said, pointing to the mass of paper, "is the budget. I have spent the past three days studying it. I am a professional economist. I can tell you that there are only two people in the United States who know what is in this budget: the director of the budget, and I. And I weep because notwithstanding that I was a college professor, I am incapable of telling you what is in that budget."

And that was 50 years ago! Talk about mutatis mutandis : 1956 to 2006 -- the federal budget.

But let us attempt two things at this sitting. The first is to give in simple figures the case against President Bush. Here is the spending reduced to percentage comparisons, as done for USA Today by Richard Wolf this April. Wolf speaks of eight categories in which federal spending has risen, starting with "Pumping Up the Pentagon," "Leaving No Child Behind," and "Protecting the Homeland."

"This year," Wolf writes, "Congress trimmed $39 billion over five years from benefit programs. The White House wants to go further 'to prevent (Wolf is quoting Scott Milburn of the White House Office of Management and Budget) severe economic and fiscal consequences for our children and grandchildren.'"

Wolf then compares Bush with the previous seven presidents in terms of overall federal spending, spending on defense and spending on K-12 education. He gives the average annual change in spending for each administration in these three categories (all adjusted for inflation):

Overall Defense Education

Johnson 6 percent 5 percent 31 percent

Nixon-Ford 3 percent minus 6 percent 3 percent

Carter 4 percent 3 percent 1 percent

Reagan 3 percent 4 percent 0 percent

G.H.W. Bush 2 percent minus 4 percent 5 percent

Clinton 2 percent minus 2 percent 3 percent

G.W. Bush 5 percent 8 percent 7 percent

Never mind -- at this moment -- qualifying one's reactions on the basis of national and international events. The fact of it is that the increased expenditures by President Bush stand out hugely compared to all seven predecessors except Johnson.

But listen now to Karl Rove, the president's principal exegete. He spoke to the American Enterprise Institute six weeks after Wolf's article appeared in USA Today.

William F. Buckley

William F. Buckley, Jr. is editor-at-large of National Review, the prolific author of Miles Gone By: A Literary Autobiography.

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