The Common Good

Which Party is the Biggest Spender? A. Democrats B. Republicans C. All of the Above

In a recent New York Times column, David Brooks laments the loss of the political center. "In the first year of the Obama administration," he writes, "the Democrats, either wittingly or unwittingly, decided to put the big government-versus-small government debate at the center of American life." The result is polarization, with a strong tilt to the "antigovernment right." Brooks, who is somewhat right of center himself, does not call this "mere anarchy."

Indeed, the internet is full of anger against what many people see as "a federal onslaught," but Brooks must be referring to spin rather than facts when he characterizes Democrats as the big government party and Republicans as the small government party. That, of course, is what Republicans would like us to believe: they have been characterizing Democrats as the "tax and spend" party since FDR's time.

I decided to find out just how committed to big government Democrats really are. I was sure they spent more on government programs than Republicans did, but how much more?

To find out, I went to the Historical Tables of the Budget of the United States Government, Fiscal Year 2009. This 342-page document includes a mind-boggling array of statistics. The one that seemed most helpful in gauging the size of the federal government appears in Table 3.1, "Outlays by Superfunction and Function: 1940

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