‘Lean’ spending bill ignores ‘800-pound gorilla’ of federal entitlement spending
WASHINGTON – How bad is the government’s deficit problem? The just-passed $388 billion bill financing almost every federal agency in 2005 could be eliminated and there would still be red ink.
The massive measure that Congress approved Saturday held the growth of domestic programs to about 1 percent – one of the sparest increases in years – falling below the rate of inflation. But the legislation did not touch the largest and fastest-growing side of the budget – Social Security, Medicare and other benefits paid automatically without Congress having to vote on them.
“If they don’t start focusing on the 800-pound gorilla, they’ll never be able to get control of the budget,” said Robert Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, a group that favors deficit reduction.
Of this year’s $2.4 trillion budget, about one-third will be spent on federal programs that Congress must approve every year.
The rest of this part – essentially the contents of the bill approved Saturday – represents about one-sixth of the overall budget. Year-in year-out, it gets most of the scrutiny from lawmakers looking for ways to save money.
However, this session of Congress is ending without slowing the growth of spending for entitlement programs, benefits the government pays automatically to anyone who qualifies.
Led by Medicare and Social Security, these programs are expected to total about $1.5 trillion this year and start growing even faster than they have in the past. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projected in September that these programs will cost $2.5 trillion annually by 2014.