Presidential Candidates’ Proposals Would Bust Budget, Study Finds

Published November 1, 2004

There’s a saying that talk is cheap, but an analysis issued September 7 by the National Taxpayers Union Foundation (NTUF) shows that when politicians do the talking, it’s often enormously expensive for taxpayers.

Regardless of who becomes our next president, Republican incumbent George W. Bush or Democrat challenger John F. Kerry, an already-ballooning federal budget is likely to expand even more, according to the NTUF report.

Bush, Kerry Would Grow Budget

In accepting the nomination for president at September’s Republican National Convention, Bush spoke in favor of Social Security and medical liability reforms, which could save money, but his other proposals would carry a big price tag for taxpayers.

Bush called for nine policy initiatives that would affect federal spending. If enacted all at once, those programs would result in a $7.98 billion boost in federal outlays.

The $7.98 billion in net yearly spending Bush proposed that night would increase the budget by roughly one-third of 1 percent. Though not the extensive “laundry list” of items pundits predicted in advance of the speech, the proposals can still add up.

Bush’s call to boost Pell Grants would result in a $2.67 billion spending increase. His pledge to “make our country less dependent on foreign sources of energy” (by passing the long-stalled energy legislation) would add $4.75 billion to the total.

NTUF’s analysis did not examine the entirety of Bush’s fiscal policy agenda. Earlier this year, for example, the group determined that Bush’s State of the Union address contained $13.6 billion in net annual spending hikes. Among the items he outlined in January were remedial math and reading assistance in schools ($320 million), $200 million more for Pell Grants, and doubled funding for abstinence programs ($120 million).

It was the lowest budget increase NTUF had tracked among the past five presidential State of the Union speeches.

The NTUF report noted Kerry’s rhetoric on behalf of fiscal restraint belies his spending proposals, which would carry a much higher price tag than Bush’s. NTUF recently analyzed Kerry’s platform and determined federal outlays would grow by $226 billion during the first year of his presidency alone if all 70 of his fiscal policy pronouncements were enacted at once.

Large Increases Already Built in

Another place to look for costly words is in official government documents. According to the Historical Tables of the Bush administration’s latest annual budget, from Fiscal Year 2001 through Fiscal Year 2005, total federal outlays are on track to rise by $536 billion, or 29 percent. Although it is true September 11 has placed new demands on the federal budget, Bush and his colleagues in Congress have boosted spending in many areas that have nothing to do with the military or homeland security.

Between FY 2001 and 2005, Labor Department spending is up 43 percent, Energy Department funding has increased 38 percent, and Education Department outlays have zoomed 80 percent.

It has been said Americans would prefer less talk and more action from their elected officials. And as the data show, talk isn’t cheap. The President received loud applause when he said his plan would restrain federal spending. The NTUF study shows both candidates owe the taxpayers an explanation about how their rhetoric squares with their policy proposals.

Demian Brady ([email protected]) is senior policy analyst and Pete Sepp ([email protected]) is vice president for communications with the National Taxpayers Union Foundation, the nonpartisan research arm of the 350,000-member National Taxpayers Union.

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For detailed studies of the presidential candidates’ fiscal policies, visit