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US spending surges to historic level

Vote on gargantuan bill in Congress caps a year of stunning growth in government.

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President Bush and the Republican-led Congress are spending money at a rate not seen since World War II - and America's expanding war on terrorism isn't the main reason.

Spending for national security, it is true, has surged due to the military effort in Iraq and stepped-up homeland security.

But judging by a bill that Congress is taking up Monday, the lasting fiscal legacy of the Bush administration will also include a historic rise in domestic spending that could affect everything from consumer interest rates to a fiscal landscape that could force epic tax increases in future.

The spending growth is punctuated this week by a single vote in the House that wraps in all the spending leftovers - not all the money for troops, not the big Medicare expansion - and totals $820 billion. That's as big as the annual economic output of Sweden and Spain combined.

Behind the shift are several factors, notably the Republican Party's changing strategy and the lapsing of self-imposed fiscal restraints in Congress since Mr. Bush took office.

"The Republican party is simply not interested in small government now," says Brian Riedl, a budget analyst at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. "They're worse than the Democrats they replaced."

The upshot: Federal spending per household is above $20,000 this year - a level not seen since World War II caused military spending to surge. This time, military spending is again a big factor, but accounts for less than half of recent increases, the Heritage Foundation says.

It's not just all those pork projects crammed into the end-of-year spending package that worries conservatives. Many concede that pet projects are the price of getting out of Washington, no matter which party has control.

More broadly, what troubles many conservatives - and could open a rift within the Republican Party - is Mr. Bush's apparent abandonment of "small government" as a party mantra.

The 'price' of GOP power?

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