- Discretionary spending comprises most defense spending and other nonentitlement social programs; it's what president and Congress decide to spend each year through appropriations bills. Because it could be theoretically zeroed out each year, discretionary spending is the best measure of fiscal responsibility in evaluating presidents and Congresses.
In fiscal 1965-68, Lyndon Johnson raised discretionary spending a whopping 33.4 percent (all figures are adjusted for inflation and based on Office of Management and Budget data). He jacked up nondefense discretionary spending 34.2 percent and defense spending -- remember Vietnam? -- 33.1 percent.
Then there's George W. Bush. In his first term, he increased total discretionary spending 35.1 percent and that percentage will actually rise: the final figures for fiscal 2005 aren't in yet, so we have to rely on the July OMB midsession review numbers. The final numbers will be significantly higher, especially since midsession figures do not take into account hundreds of billions in supplemental spending related to Hurricane Katrina and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
How has the president spent so much? Defense spending has greatly increased, by 37.2 percent over four years. But the president also increased nondefense discretionary spending by a humongous 37 percent. Even when you subtract homeland security spending, Mr. Bush and Congress boosted nondefense discretionary spending by 23 percent during his first term.
GWB or LBJ?
Who's the bigger spender?