Entitllements dominate government spending

Three growing entitlement programs consumed nearly half of all federal spending
in 2004, and budget analysts expect them to make up an even bigger share in the

Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid accounted for more than $1 trillion in
the 2004 budget year, according to the Consolidated Federal Funds Report being
released Tuesday by the Census Bureau.

Overall federal spending was $2.2 trillion, an increase of 5 percent from

“The total federal spending increase is actually down a bit from recent
years,” said Gerard Keffer, chief of the Census Bureau’s federal programs
branch. “It had been running 6 to 8 percent in the past several years.”

For years, Washington has been fighting over how to manage the growth of
entitlement programs. Analysts think the fight will continue for years to

“I think it’s absolutely essential and inevitable that we are going to reform
those programs,” said Rudolph Penner, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute, a
social issues research organization. “How, is another question. There’s very
little interest, now.”

President Bush has pushed to overhaul Social Security and establish private
accounts, but Congress has balked.

Critics argue that private accounts would do nothing to slow the growth of
Social Security spending _ unless benefits are cut, a politically unpopular

Spending on Medicare, the federal health insurance program for the elderly,
is set to increase with the introduction of a drug benefit in January.

The federal government estimates it will spend about $724 billion over 10
years to provide the Medicare drug benefit.

Other factors contributing to spending increases include an aging population
and soaring health care costs, Penner said. The oldest baby boomers will start
turning 60 in January, and once they start qualifying for Social Security
benefits, costs will grow at an even faster pace.

Penner said increased spending on entitlement programs eventually will mean
less money for other programs and increased pressure to raise taxes.

“I think they’re going to squeeze out all sorts of other spending items,”
said Penner, former director of the Congressional Budget Office.

The Census Bureau compiles the federal spending report each year with
information from about 50 federal agencies, Keffer said. One purpose is to show
how much federal money goes to each state.

The report excludes spending on foreign aid, international affairs and
interest payments on the national debt, a total of about $200 billion in 2004,
because those items do not go to individual states, Keffer said.

It also does not specify spending for the Central Intelligence Agency, the
Defense Intelligence Agency or the National Security Agency because those
budgets are classified, Keffer said.

Among the report’s findings:

_ One third of all federal spending went to five states in 2004: California;
New York; Texas; Florida; and Pennsylvania.

_ California led all states with $232 billion.

_ Wyoming received the least money, $4.4 billion.

_ Alaska received only $8.4 billion. But with its relatively small
population, it led the nation in per capita federal spending, at $12,885 a

_ Nevada received the lowest per capita amount, $5,469 a person.

_ Defense Department spending was highest in California, Virginia, Texas,
Florida and Maryland.


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© 2005 The Associated