Right-Wing Claims About Spending Under Obama Are Completely Wrong – And That’s a Problem

Talk to anyone on the Republican side of the aisle this election cycle, and you will hear one thing over and over (and over, and over….) Namely, you’ll hear how “out-of-control” spending is killing the country’s economy and that it’s all Obama’s fault. This plays into the two great dreams of the Republican Party: 1) to get rid of Barack Obama, and 2) to slash government spending, and with it, the size and scope of government itself. Unfortunately for those spinning this tale, those pesky things called facts are getting in the way:

The spending binge that never was. (Courtesy of WSJ MarketWatch)

As you can see from the chart to the right, government spending under Obama, including his signature stimulus bill, is rising at a 1.4% annualized pace — slower than at any time in nearly 60 years.  The big surge in federal spending happened in fiscal 2009, before Obama took office. Since then, spending growth has been relatively flat. Here are the facts, via the Wall Street Journal:

• In the 2009 fiscal year — the last of George W. Bush’s presidency — federal spending rose by 17.9% from $2.98 trillion to $3.52 trillion. Check the official numbers at the Office of Management and Budget.

• In fiscal 2010 — the first budget under Obama — spending fell 1.8% to $3.46 trillion. • In fiscal 2011, spending rose 4.3% to $3.60 trillion.

• In fiscal 2012, spending is set to rise 0.7% to $3.63 trillion, according to the Congressional Budget Office’s estimate of the budget that was agreed to last August.

• Finally in fiscal 2013 — the final budget of Obama’s term — spending is scheduled to fall 1.3% to $3.58 trillion. Read the CBO’s latest budget outlook.

So this is great news, right? One of the primary attacks on President Obama turns out to be unsupportable by the facts. Woo hoo!

Sure, it’s great if all you care about is scoring a political point. But if you actually care about a healthy US economy and about a robust recovery which benefits all Americans, not just those at the top, it’s pretty dismal news. The lack of government spending following the deepest and most prolonged downturn since the Great Depression is a key factor in the painfully slow recovery.

How bad is it? As the WSJ piece points out, “Even hapless Herbert Hoover managed to increase spending more than Obama has.” The author goes on to explain that this is worse than it implies, because once you account for inflation and population growth, on a per capita basis, spending is actually down.  And the Democrats are gleefully prancing about, just about thrilled to death to have this vindication. sigh

This is just a rehash of what Michael Linden put together for the Center for American Progress. And it serves the same purpose – to “bust the myth” from conservatives that Obama has presided over growth in federal spending. But of course, that feeds another myth, that such restraint is a wise course in the midst of an economic recession. We know that the opposite is true, based on all the available evidence in virtually every country in the world. Just today, the head of the IMF is begging Britain to take advantage of their low borrowing costs and use fiscal stimulus to kickstart their economy.

Our borrowing costs are just as low. And so if you want to explain the sluggish recovery in the US, if you want to explain the suffering of millions of people through elevated unemployment going on its fourth year, you can use the exact same statistics and give the exact same answer – because under Obama, growth in government spending is “at the lowest level in nearly 60 years.” (David Dayen, FDL — emphasis mine)

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