Who’s buying the notion that Barack Obama is a fiscal conservative who’s engineered the slowest spending growth since Calvin Coolidge? Not the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler, who gave the argument three Pinocchios in a fact-check yesterday, and not the Associated Press, either. In a fact-check of their own this morning, the AP’s Andrew Taylor reports that Obama’s “rosy claim” has a lot of problems — with Obama being first and foremost among them:
There’s also the question of how to treat the 2009 fiscal year, which actually began Oct. 1, 2008, almost four months before Obama took office. Typically, the remaining eight months get counted as part of the prior president’s spending since the incoming president usually doesn’t change it much until the following October. The MarketWatch analysis assigned 2009 to former President George W. Bush, though it gave Obama responsibility that year for a $140 million chunk of the 2009 stimulus bill.
But Obama’s role in 2009 spending was much bigger than that. For starters, he signed nine spending bills funding every Cabinet agency except Defense, Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security. While the numbers don’t jibe exactly, Obama bears the chief responsibility for an 11 percent, $59 billion increase in non-defense spending in 2009. Then there’s a 9 percent, $109 billion increase in combined defense and non-defense appropriated outlays in 2010, a year for which Obama is wholly responsible.
So what’s the real picture? Spending sharply increased under Obama, and the rate only slowed down due to the influence of a Republican-controlled House:
If one assumes that TARP and the takeover of Fannie and Freddie by the government as one-time budgetary anomalies and remove them from calculations — an approach taken by Holtz-Eakin — you get the following picture:
—A 9.7 percent increase in 2009, much of which is attributable to Obama.
—A 7.8 percent increase in 2010, followed by slower spending growth over 2011-13. Much of the slower growth reflects the influence of Republicans retaking control of the House and their budget and debt deal last summer with Obama. All told, government spending now appears to be growing at an annual rate of roughly 3 percent over the 2010-2013 period, rather than the 0.4 percent claimed by Obama and the MarketWatch analysis.
The argument was always absurd on its face. The last fully Republican budget was FY2007, which came in at $2.77 trillion. The last Bush/Democrat budget was FY2008, which was $2.982 trillion. The FY2009 budget, which Obama signed into law and which was passed by a Democrat-controlled Congress, was $3.517 trillion with a $1.4 trillion deficit. That’s a year-on-year increase of nearly 18%, and those numbers come straight from the White House website. If you prefer the figures in percentage of GDP, as Kessler noted yesterday, we went from 20.8% of GDP in FY2008 to 25.2% in FY2009, which is an increase of 22% year on year.
Nor does it get any better. Using FY2008 as the baseline comparison, FY2010’s budget was $3.456 trillion, an increase of 15.88% over the last Bush/Democrat budget. FY2011’s $3.603 trillion budget was a 20.8% increase, and FY2012’s projected $3.795 trillion (the White House projection, mind you) is an increase of 27.26% over the last Bush budget — in just four budget years. An argument that this is a demonstration of fiscal discipline would have to come straight out of the pages of George Orwell’s 1984.