The U.S. government is the largest and most powerful government in the history of the world. But that stature comes with a price. Not only has the American government confiscated untold trillions of dollars in wealth from its citizens; it has borrowed trillions more and accumulated the greatest mountain of debt in human history. The federal leviathan has an insatiable desire for money to fund its vast income-transfer, wealth-redistribution, social-engineering, and crony-capitalistic schemes.
To plan for these vast expenditures, the president proposes a budget. Then the respective budget committees of the House and Senate propose their own budgets by means of concurrent resolutions that allocate spending among categories known as budget functions. Congress then passes appropriation bills based on and constrained by the discretionary spending allocations in the budget resolutions.
Barack Obama submitted his proposed fiscal year 2013 budget to Congress at the end of February. With its tax increases and built-in trillion-dollar deficit, it was dead on arrival.
At the end of March, the Republican-controlled House Committee on the Budget submitted its own budget plan. Then the Democratic minority on the House Committee on the Budget introduced their own budget plan in the form of an amendment to the Republican plan, H. CON. RES. 112.
Because of the Republican majority in the House, it is no surprise that, on party-line votes, the Democratic plan was rejected and the Republican plan passed. However, 10 House Republicans bucked the House leadership and voted against the Republican budget.
Two concurrent resolutions on the budget have been introduced by Republicans in the Senate, but they have no chance of passing in the Democrat-controlled Senate. Senate Democrats filed a “deeming resolution” establishing the Senate’s discretionary spending limits according to the levels enacted in the Budget Control Act of 2011.
A brief look at the respective budgets proposed by the Democrats and Republicans in the House shows that all of the Democrats and the overwhelming majority of the Republicans are firmly committed to budgeting leviathan.
For fiscal year 2013, House Democrats propose to spend $3.704 trillion (and run a deficit of $964 billion). House Republicans propose to spend $3.53 trillion (and run a deficit of $796 billion). That is a difference in spending outlays of only 4.81 percent.
That couldn’t possibly be true, I thought. Didn’t Sen. Jim DeMint just say in his book Now or Never: Saving America from Economic Collapse that there are “irreconcilable differences” between Democrats and Republicans and that Democrats “always expand government and spending”? Didn’t the Texas governor and former Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry also say in his book Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America from Washington that, in general, Republicans believe in “low taxes,” “low regulation,” and “less spending,” while Democrats believe in “higher taxes,” “more regulations,” and “more spending”?
To give the Republicans the benefit of the doubt, I tried looking at the figures in other ways, but the results were not much different. We could say that Democrats want to spend 4.92 percent more than Republicans. Or we could say that Republicans want to spend 4.69 percent less than Democrats. But it is apparent that no matter how you look at it, Democrats and Republicans are within 5 percent of each other. It looks like George Wallace was right when he quipped that there wasn’t a dime’s worth of difference between the Republicans and Democrats.
One way to decisively determine whether there is any difference between Republicans and Democrats is to look at the spending they each propose on certain specific budget functions.
On budget function 050, National Defense, Republicans want new budget authority of $562.2 billion, while Democrats want $553.9 billion. That is a difference of 1.48 percent.
On budget function 350, Agriculture, Republicans want new budget authority of $21.7 billion, while Democrats want $21.8 billion. That is a difference of .46 percent.
On budget function 500, Education, Republicans want new budget authority of $57.6 billion, while Democrats want $85 billion. That is a difference of 38.42 percent.
On budget function 550, Health, Republicans want new budget authority of $363.6 billion, while Democrats want $370.7 billion. That is a difference of 1.93 percent.
On budget function 570, Medicare, Republicans want new budget authority of $510.1 billion, while Democrats want $515.1 billion. That is a difference of .97 percent.
On budget function 600, Income Security, Republicans want new budget authority of $517 billion, while Democrats want $538 billion. That is a difference of 3.96 percent.
On budget function 650, Social Security, both Republicans and Democrats want new budget authority of $822.2 billion.
On budget function 970, Global War on Terror (Republicans) or Overseas Contingency Operations (Democrats), both Republicans and Democrats want new budget authority of $96.7 billion.
Because the majority of U.S. military spending goes to maintaining an empire and intervening in other countries, both the first and last categories relate to the warfare state. The difference in spending proposed by Republicans and Democrats is negligible. It is a myth that Democrats want to “slash military spending,” “leave the country defenseless,” “turn their back on the troops,” and other nonsense spewed by Republican warmongers. Both parties are firmly committed to maintaining the warfare state.
The other budget functions relate to the welfare state.
Spending on agriculture includes funds for direct assistance, export assistance, loans to food and fiber producers, agricultural research, commodity programs, crop insurance, and disaster assistance.
Spending on education includes not only the expenditures of the Department of Education, but also training, employment, and social services of the departments of Labor and of Health and Human Services.
Spending on health includes mainly funding for Medicaid (70 percent), but also the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), health research and training, and substance-abuse programs.
Spending on Medicare — national health care for older Americans — includes the Part A Hospital Insurance Program, Part B Supplementary Medical Insurance Program, Part C Medicare Advantage Program, and Part D Prescription Drug Benefit.
Spending on income security includes what is traditionally classified as entitlement or welfare: unemployment compensation, housing assistance, energy assistance, food stamps, school-lunch subsidies, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and the refundable portion of the Earned Income Credit (EIC).
Spending on Social Security — the crown jewel of the welfare state — includes benefits for retirement, disability, survivorship, and death to about 55 million Americans.
Both parties are firmly committed to maintaining every aspect of the welfare state. Only when it comes to spending on education do Republicans want to spend significantly less than Democrats — this year. It was just a few short years ago under a Republican president, a Republican House, and a Republican Senate that Republicans ballooned the education budget up to $100 billion. But regardless of how much less than the Democrats the Republicans want the federal government to spend on education, since the Constitution authorizes absolutely nothing to be spent on education, $57.6 billion is $57.6 billion too much.
When it comes to the welfare state, Republicans talk a lot about reforms, block grants, and cutting waste, fraud, and abuse. They chatter endlessly about streamlining agencies, consolidating departments, and making government programs more efficient. They wax eloquent about strengthening particular programs, making them sustainable, protecting them, and saving them. But they talk very little about eliminating, repealing, or abolishing anything. And, of course, their performance is even worse than their promises. Republicans have fully accepted the New Deal and the Great Society.
In spite of all their rhetoric about limited government and fiscal responsibility; in spite of their all their contracts, pledges, paths, and blueprints; in spite of all their talk about the Constitution; in spite of all their attacks on the evil Democrats; in spite of all their warnings about the dangers of socialism and collectivism; and in spite of all their endless and empty promises, the only government the Republicans want to limit is a government controlled by Democrats.
The budget numbers can’t be explained away. Both parties are firmly committed to the warfare/welfare state.
George Wallace may have been wrong about some things or many things, but he certainly got one thing right: There is not a dime’s worth of difference between the Republicans and Democrats. America is a sinking ship. The only thing the Republicans and Democrats in Congress are determining is whether the ship lists to the right or left as it goes down.
Originally published on The Future of Freedom Foundation on April 10, 2012.