According to many reports, federal spending for fiscal year 1992, which begins next October, has finally been brought under control: the budget is up only 2.6 percent, or less than the projected rate of inflation.
This good news, however, is a fabrication. It is the result of numerous upward revisions of 1991 spending from $1.23 trillion, when the budget was first submitted, to the current estimate of $1.41 trillion.In other words, since the budget for the current fiscal year was submitted a year ago, spending for 1991 has risen $180 billion! Originally projected at $63 billion, the deficit is now expected to reach $318 billion.
It is revealing to compare President Bush's just released budget for 1992 with the budget of a year ago. The 1991 budget set spending for this year at $1.233 trillion, rising to $1.271 trillion in 1992, an increase of only $38 billion.
In contrast, the 1992 budget sets 1992 spending at $1.45 trillion - an increase of $217 billion above the amount set in the 1991 budget for the current fiscal year. That's an 18 percent increase, not the 2.6 percent, less-than-inflation increase being touted.
If spending grows in 1992 like it did in 1991, the real figure for the year will be $1.7 trillion, and the budget deficit will climb above $500 billion.
The $180 billion increase in 1991 spending above the original projection is blamed on the cost of the S&L bailout, and officials will say the same thing can't happen in 1992. We should hope not, but the S&L bust won't be over until real estate values stabilize, which doesn't seem to have happened yet.
Moreover, the Bush administration's banking reform legislation has the potential of driving the federal insurance fund for bank deposits deeper into the red, just as the 1989 S&L reform legislation added substantially to the cost of the S&L bailout.
The individual provisions of the banking reform proposals look sensible enough. However, the overall effect is likely to strengthen the strong banks while weakening those that are experiencing troubles. Banks with strong capital positions will be allowed to engage in a broad range of new financial services, but weak banks will be subject to increasingly stringent regulation, including higher deposit insurance premiums, dividend cuts and forced sale of the banks.
A great deal is at stake. By mishandling the S&L crisis, the Bush administration has created a vast budget deficit that dwarfs the Reagan deficit. The only way the Bush administration can show a declining deficit in the future is by assuming that the government's Resolution Trust Corp. is able to sell its large inventory of S&L properties in 1993 and 1994.
However, if banking reform sets in motion a string of bank failures, the government will acquire more properties, and the deficit will grow.
Meanwhile, Congress and its staff are becoming aristocrats. This year representatives get a 29 percent pay increase, hiking their salary to $125,100. Their top aides get $115,000.
Think about that when you prepare your income tax returns.