Economy & Budget

President Obama, spender in chief

President Obama, spender in chief

“Since I’ve been president, federal spending has risen at the lowest pace in nearly 60 years,” said President Barack Obama on May 23. This was one day after liberal pundit Rex Nutting posted on MarketWatch.com a claim that “under Obama, federal spending is rising at the slowest pace since Dwight Eisenhower.”

Liberal cable network MSNBC’s talk-show hosts Chris Matthews, Rachel Maddow and Ed Schultz trumpeted Nutting’s column, as did Obama Press Secretary Jay Carney, who castigated reporters for “sloth and laziness” for failing to publicize Obama’s frugality.

Sixty years—all the way back to Dwight Eisenhower in 1952—covers eleven presidents.

Among all of them, when it comes to fiscal restraint, Obama ranks No. 1—according to Obama.

BUNK.

Far from the most frugal president of the past 60 years, in terms of average annual spending, it would be more accurate to say that Obama is the biggest spender of this period.

Washington Post Fact-Checker Glenn Kessler gave Carney three Pinocchios for his use of Nutting’s column, writing that Carney “might do better next time than cite an article he plucked off the Web. The data in the article are flawed, and the analysis lacks context—context that could easily could [sic] be found in the budget documents released by the White House.”


Let’s start with the White House Historical Tables of the Budget. Even Nutting admits these data contain at least one error, attributing $140 billion of Obama’s off-budget spending in FY 2009 to Bush. In addition, reports PJ Media’s Tom Blumer, Obama’s Treasury Department added an extra $157 billion in non-existent expenditures to Bush’s FY 2009 spending, which it then subtracted (as “‘recoveries’ of prior year unpaid obligations”) from Obama’s spending in FY 2010 and 2011. The accompanying tables correct for these errors.

Obama really is No.1. In dollar terms—even adjusted for inflation—Obama is the No. 1 biggest spending president of the past 60 years, spending on average more than $3 trillion per year, almost $700 billion more per year than Bush. From Bush to Obama, the increase in average annual spending is nearly $145 billion greater than from Bill Clinton to Bush.

In percentage terms, instead of the No. 1 fiscal hawk of the past 60 years, Obama is No. 10 out of 11 presidents. In terms of the increase in average annual spending, Obama’s only competition is George W. Bush, who edges him out by less than one-half of one percent: Obama is spending an average of 27.85 percent more per year than Bush, but Bush spent 28.34 percent more than Clinton.

Even according to Obama’s own (uncorrected) statistics, as a share of Gross Domestic Product, he is, once again, the No. 1 biggest spender of the past 60 years. As illustrated above, average annual spending under Obama is 24 percent of GDP, an increase of 3.4 percentage points. No other president in the past 60 years can touch these numbers. In terms of spending as a share of GDP, Reagan and George Herbert Walker Bush come in second and third, respectively, both around 22 percent. In terms of increase, Ford comes in a distant second to Obama, having increased spending by 2 points, followed again by George W. Bush (1.1 points, or almost 6 percent).

Any way you cut it, Obama’s attempt to frame himself as the most fiscally conservative president of the past 60 years is pure bunk.

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