“Just how bad has the start of this millennium been for budget hawks?” IWF’s Carrie Lukas asks in a piece on National Review today. The answer is pretty bad. Government spending has skyrocketed since 1999:

“There are understandable reasons for some of the increase in our budget: Most notably, America’s population has grown – though not nearly as fast as spending. The total population in 1999 was 273 million; today it’s 304 million. Yet the federal government now spends about $9,000 per person, nearly $3,000 more than was spent in 1999. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are part of the reason for the federal budget’s tremendous growth, but domestic spending has also been on the rise: Non-defense discretionary spending grew by more than a third in real terms since 1999.

“Imagine if Washington had grown only at the rate of inflation plus population growth since 1999. Not only would America have no federal deficit, but we would have hundreds of billions of dollars of surplus. Even if politicians had merely held the line on non-defense discretionary spending, our deficit would be nearly $100 billion lower.

“Policymakers can justify some of the additional spending as necessary in the post-911 world. But just as surely as we’ve needed investments in homeland security and intelligence, plenty of the federal budget has deserved cuts. And let’s be honest: Returning to 1999 spending wouldn’t exactly be a journey to Spartan frugality. The Citizens for Government Waste found $12 billion of pork that year, which would have been a good place to start the trimming.”