Has Obama really cut deficit spending?

posted at 11:01 am on January 16, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

He certainly claimed to have done so in his press conference on Monday, which even a simple look at federal spending over the last several years belies.  In my column for The Week on Tuesday, I ran through the math:

“Over the years,” Obama told the White House press corps, “I’ve signed into law about $1.4 trillion in spending cuts.” That may be news to most Americans, who see the federal government on track for a fifth straight year of trillion-dollar deficits under Obama. As these deficits show, Obama hasn’t done anything to bring the government in line with its revenues. In the FY2009 budget that Democrats kept out of Bush’s hands and which Obama approved in a final omnibus bill in March 2009, Bush proposed a spending level of $3.1 trillion, but Washington ended up spending $3.5 trillion instead, thanks in large part to the economic crisis.

That level of spending hasn’t abated. In fact, it has increased. The budget submitted by Obama in early 2012 for FY2013 proposed $3.8 trillion in new spending, an increase of 31 percent over the final Bush-Democratic Congress budget, and a 9 percent increase over the budget Obama signed two months into his term. So where exactly has spending been “cut”?

Investors Business Daily also did the math, and agrees that Obama’s claim comes up significantly short of reality.  They compare Obama’s future deficit trajectory to the proposal from Obama’s own Simpson-Bowles commission in this chart, calling it the Big Deficit Gulch:

But a closer look at the numbers shows that Obama is exaggerating how much deficit reduction he’s actually achieved, and is being decidedly Pollyannaish about the nation’s still massive long-term budget gap and what will be needed to close it. …

Obama’s Bowles-Simpson debt commission, for example, said in its final report — issued in late 2010 — that a credible $4 trillion deficit reduction plan would produce red ink of just $279 billion in 2020. But the current budget trajectory puts that year’s deficit at close to $600 billion, according to Congressional Budget Office data.

Meanwhile, the commission plan called for national debt to be 65% of GDP by 2020, but the current CBO forecast has it at about 75%.

Worse, while the debt commission plan produced a balanced budget by 2035, the CBO predicts that under current law annual deficits will start climbing again after 2018.

The window for real reductions in current and future spending as a way to protect the American economy is rapidly closing, too.  IBD bases that argument on government projections for deficit control if Obama’s policies continue:

Meanwhile, a Government Accountability Office report issued last fall cast the nation’s long-term debt problem in even starker terms. Keeping the debt-to-GDP ratio constant over the next 75 years would require either a 32% cut in projected spending or a 46% increase in taxes, assuming a more realistic scenario for baseline deficits.

And if nothing is done for a decade, the problem only gets worse, requiring a 55% hike in taxes or a 37% cut in spending.

At some point, both paths become politically impossible, and the easy route will be to end the entitlement programs altogether.  That’s the real danger of these massive deficits and increased federal spending, and when that comes, Tim Geithner’s message to Paul Ryan will be seen as the massively pusillanimous dodge that it was:

Andrew Malcolm points out that Obama seems to be losing interest in the latest non-solution to the nation’s problems:

President Obama has settled on a political communications strategy for his final term that begins Sunday:

Talk about admirable aspirations, ignore the nation’s economic and fiscal realities, keep everyone fighting amongst themselves over anything at hand while calmly deploring all the disputes, rancor and chaos that this president has helped to engineer.

Such stunning cynicism has actually worked pretty well for the Real Good Talker this past year.

Never mind stratospheric millions of jobless, an amazingly ineffective economic stimulus program, historic highs in poverty rates, a national debt larger than a national economy and nearly 50 million people collecting food stamps tossed out like free candy from a parade float.

Instead, talk about educating every single American child for their own fair shot at some kind of idealized future, delivering better healthcare to millions more people for less money with no additional doctors and protecting ill-defined middle-class Americans from someone doing something to them. …

Now that he’s got Washington and Republicans fighting over how to address his briefly postponed sequester cuts and a national debt that grows by $2.8 million every single minute of every single day, Obama this morning launches his next divisive distraction: More controls on firearms.

And to do so, he’s proposing a plan that has zero chance of going anywhere on Capitol Hill.  Call this a credibility deficit, and that’s growing larger every day, too.


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