States Addicted to Federal Spending? Rhetoric Against Spending Far From Reality


"The number of grants and dollar amounts have generally risen over the years," said Richard Cole, a professor at the University of Texas at Arlington.

At the same time, the proportion of money that states give back to the federal government in the form of taxes relative to what they get in return has shrunk. Virtually all states -- whether red or blue -- get more than $1 per capita back for every tax dollar paid to Washington, D.C.

Conservative lawmakers acknowledge that the reality and rhetoric may not match each other all the time, but argue that given the hefty federal budget deficit, it's time to cut spending, even if that means less money for states.

"When you start cutting, everybody says ... 'Don't cut you, don't cut me, cut that guy behind the tree,' and that's where everybody is on this issue," GOP Rep. John Carter of Texas, whose district includes Ft. Hood, told ABC News. But "I believe, very honestly, we are going to wake up one day if we don't address this issue and the cuts are going to be the smallest problem we have."

The Tea Party momentum has pushed lawmakers to ratchet up rhetoric against government spending. But outside of Washington, it remains to be seen how cutting programs will be received by the public.

Despite calls to cut spending, most Tea Party activists are against cutting the defense and military budget, one of the heaviest expenses incurred by the U.S. government.

Virginia, for example, represents only about 2.5 percent of the country's population but receives nearly 5 percent of total federal spending because of the slew of military bases.

Many say that figure, despite being disproportionate, is justified because of defense.

"I support spending cuts to live within our means, but I'm not going to cut off my nose to spite my face," said Daniel Cortez, a Tea Party activist in Virginia and member of the Prince William Tea Party.

Federal funding to states is expected to taper off with the end of the stimulus program and pressure on lawmakers to eliminate earmarks and rein in the deficit.

If the rhetoric on Capitol Hill calling for spending cuts translates into action, observers say, grant money to states could decline for the first time since President Reagan's era.

"Not only will grant funding decline -- led by the cessation of additional Medicaid funding -- but procurement and salaries could also take a hit," according to a Census bureau report.

On the one hand, it would ease up the burden of federal mandates on states. On the other hand, it could be financially even more cumbersome for states that are embroiled in a fiscal crisis, experts say.

Many Republicanrs "are not happy with the increasing number of mandates attached to the programs. If the federal government actually does reduce its budget seriously, the dollars available to state and local governments through the grant programs will probably decline proportionally," Cole said. "The concern is that, freed from federal oversight, states' policy simply would not be adequate to the need."

That decline would have even more of an adverse impact on local governments that stand to lose both federal and state dollars, he added.

Republicans argue that the cuts are needed to stop the country from drowning in debt.

"We've gotten a psychological attitude that Santa Claus lives in Washington, and he's going to dole out money to everybody and every project, including the states," said Carter, a member of the House Appropriations Committee and the House Tea Party Caucus. "Some states are hooked like heroin on that one. Some states aren't, and that's part of the painful process we've got to go through.

"You have to look your state legislatures in the eye," Carter added, "and say, 'Santa Claus died. He's not giving you any money on that issue.'"

ABC News' Amy Bingham and Kristina Bergess contributed to this report.

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