Federal Subsidy Programs Soar (in Number, that is)


If this keeps up much longer, our friends at OMB Watch are going to have their hand full maintaining the grants side of FedSpending.org. Chris Edwards of the Cato Institute finds that the number subsidy programs listed in the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance has skyrocketed–from 1,013 programs in 1985 to 1,390 in 1995 to 1,696 in 2006.

New programs in 2006, according to Edwards, include things like the $150 million to give to groups that promote health marriages (here’s the official Web site), $99 million to give to states and school districts to develop merit-based compensation plans for teachers (here), and $7 million to get Americans to eat more fruits, vegetables and nuts and also to improve the competitiveness of U.S. growers of these foodstuffs (no site yet, look up “10.169” here).

I kind of liked the way that Edwards framed this type of spending:

The proliferation of special interest spending in the federal budget in recent years has created much waste and corruption. Politicians have helped special interests while helping themselves. But the main problem has not been that politicians have their hands in the cookie jar; it is that the cookie jar has grown so large.

I’m not entirely sure I agree with all the implications of the last sentence, but the first two strike me as true, and as for the third, as we’ve found with earmarks, it’s probably true that the amount and beneficiaries of a lot of federal spending are left to the discretion of very few lawmakers, who dole it out with very little oversight or exposure. And a cookie jar that no one’s watching is far too tempting for politicians and special interests to dig into…