During his eight years in office, President Bush oversaw a large increase in government spending. In fact, President Bush increased government spending more than any of the six presidents preceding him, including LBJ. In his last term in office, President Bush increased discretionary outlays by an estimated 48.6 percent.
During his eight years in office, President Bush spent almost twice as much as his predecessor, President Clinton. Adjusted for inflation, in eight years, President Clinton increased the federal budget by 12.5 percent. In eight years, President Bush increased it by a whopping 53 percent.
One reason offered for these large budget increases is that entitlement programs are growing rapidly. Although Social Security and Medicare spending growth outpaced most other programs in the mid-1990s, spending growth in discretionary programs has accelerated in the last 15 years, especially during Bush’s two terms. Between FY2002 and FY2009, discretionary spending rose 96 percent.
Some argue that federal spending during the Bush years was so high because security needs drove up the budget. It is true that defense spending increased dramatically since the late-1990s, particularly since 9/11 and the beginning of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, nondefense spending increased too. Some also argue that much of the increase in nondefense spending stemmed from increases in homeland security spending. Whether this is true, the overall rapid rise of discretionary spending indicates that, here too, the administration and Congress made no trade-offs in the budget. If the administration and Congress wanted more security spending and wanted to be fiscally responsible, they should have found savings elsewhere in the budget.
President Bush added thousands of new federal subsidy programs during his eight years in office. In 2008, there were 1,816 subsidy programs in the federal budget that spread hundreds of billions of dollars annually to special interest groups such as state governments, businesses, nonprofit groups, and individuals. The number of subsidy programs has grown by 30 percent since 2000 and by 54 percent since 1990.