The ‘Obama spending binge’: Fact or fiction?

I like to pick articles from The Week magazine because they compile competing views on up-to-date topics, more often giving the reader an overview of the media’s mood rather than presenting a particular point of view.  That can be very helpful when trying to stay informed about politically divisive issues where differing opinions are presented as fact by different sides.  A great example is research analyzing spending during Obama’s first three years as president.

The latest data shows that Obama’s spending actually represents great balance.  Some will say this is victory for Obama and defeats the Republican talking point that Obama created the deficit.  Accounting for inflation, Obama has actually decreased spending.  Others say that while spending did jump early in Obama’s tenure, a lot of that had to do with policies agreed to before his time.  Conversely, one can say spending has increased as it related to GDP, brought down by the bad economy, and the national debt has increased concurrently. So everyone is wrong and everyone is right.

My take is that this does not reveal much in actuality.  It reinforces the idea that, even with lower spending, we are on an unsustainable fiscal track that concerns politicians on both sides of the aisle.  Until political leaders get serious about addressing the train-off-the-tracks costs of the social safety net, medical care, and military spending, no president will be able to fix the long-term economic problems with short-term tax cuts or increases or an increasingly complex tax code.  Obama is not the root cause of our fiscal problems, but championing his lower impact (it isn’t ALL my fault!) ignores the fact that we are still in very dire straights when it comes to national debt.  I’m all for clearing out President’s name publicly, and I think we owe it to the voters not to deceive them.  Obama is not a “drunken sailor” spending the country into oblivion, and a Romney administration could not do much better, likely spending just as much or more, but in different places.  Both will have to deal with the problems created by the historic recision we are still mired in that began in 2008. (If you’d like some more breakdown, of the last few years and why I believe that previous statement, see here) But I do hope that this data gets at least some politicians thinking: whoever we have in there, we need to actually start taking care of business:

A contrarian analysis argues that President Obama is a model of fiscal restraint, not the spendthrift Republicans claim

Mitt Romney has accused Obama of overseeing a “debt and spending inferno,” a massive increase in government spending that could jeopardize our kids’ future. And even many Democrats agree. Only problem,says Rex Nutting atMarketWatch: The “Obama spending binge” never really happened. Federal spending jumped by 17.9 percent in the 2009 fiscal year — the last budget approved by George W. Bush — but fell by 1.8 percent under Obama’s first budget, rose by 4.3 percent and 0.7 percent in his next two years, and is scheduled to fall again, by 1.3 percent, in fiscal 2013. That, says Nutting, is “the slowest pace since Dwight Eisenhower brought the Korean War to an end….” Is he right?

The Obama binge is pure fiction: The “big surge in federal spending” started before Obama stepped into the Oval Office, says blogger Meteor Blades at Daily Kos. Obama did add $140 billion in stimulus spending that year, but over the four years that Obama actively shaped the budget, spending is on track to go from $3.52 trillion to $3.58 trillion. Adjusting for inflation, that amounts to an average 1.4 percent annual decrease. That should burst the GOP “propaganda balloon.”
“An Obama spending spree? Hardly”

Sorry, Obama really is a spendthrift: This is “a classic case of using bogus numbers to deceive one’s readers,” says John Hinderaker at Power Line. Obama and his fellow Democrats own the “spending extravaganza” of 2009, two-thirds of which happened on Obama’s watch thanks largely to what was supposed to be a one-time stimulus package. But Obama & Co. found ways to keep spending high, and even increase it. “Obama is indeed the drunken sailor that virtually every American takes him for.”
“Barack Obama, skinflint?”

You need to understand how the federal budget works: No, Obama doesn’t own 2009, says Nutting. “What people forget (or never knew) is that the first year of every presidential term starts with a budget approved by the previous administration and Congress.” The 2009 fiscal year, for which Republicans blame Obama, began four months before Obama hit the White House. “The major spending decisions in the 2009 fiscal year were made by George W. Bush and the previous Congress.”
“Obama spending binge never happened”

Spending growth really is low… but Republicans share the credit: The claim that spending growth under Obama is the lowest in decades “is very close to accurate,” says PolitiFact. Still, his fiscal record really isn’t that flattering: Our debt has jumped 14 percent per year on his watch, and spending is at its highest in decades, when you look at it as a share of the GDP. More importantly, “the president is not all-powerful,” and much of the “restraint in spending was fueled by demands from congressional Republicans.”


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