Barack Obama Is Not a Frugal President

Any attempt at celebrating the administration's budget record amounts to climbing the fence into the lion enclosure at the zoo.

When White House press secretary Jay Carney stood up in front of reporters and said, "Do not buy into the B.S. that you hear about spending and fiscal constraint with regard to this administration," I naturally assumed someone would come out with a hook and drag him away before sending him on a long vacation to recover from whatever was addling his mind.

Fools rush in where angels fear to tread, and Carney's attempt at celebrating the administration's budget record—not excusing, mind you, but celebrating—amounted to climbing the fence into the lion enclosure at the zoo.

When you're running a deficit of over a trillion dollars for the fourth consecutive year, prudence counsels that you stay as far away from the subject as possible, rather than seek out opportunities to impale yourself on it. Yet even the president has been boasting of his restraint.

Carney cited an online opinion piece by Rex Nutting in MarketWatch that carried the puzzling headline "Obama spending binge never happened." This is the equivalent of saying Barack Obama wasn't born in Hawaii, and maybe Nutting figured that if some people will believe that, they will believe anything.

He noted that the big jump in spending occurred in fiscal year 2009, which began under George W. Bush and was mostly the product of decisions made before Obama arrived. Assessing events since then, he concluded that "under Obama, federal spending is rising at the slowest pace since Dwight Eisenhower brought the Korean War to an end in the 1950s."

These are claims that are factual without being entirely true. A lot of the 2009 increase was the result of Bush's Troubled Asset Relief Program, which had the support of Obama and which inflated short-run outlays—though most of the funds were soon repaid. Obama's subsequent budgets benefited from the repayment, even as his press secretary absolves him of responsibility for the loan.

But Obama did his part in running up the debt. As an analysis by the Associated Press said, he was largely to blame for an 11 percent increase in non-defense spending in 2009—plus a 9 percent boost the next year, which is all on him.

What the administration also neglects to mention is that cutting the rate of growth is not genuine fiscal restraint. In 2009, outlays jumped from 20.8 percent of gross domestic product to 25.2 percent of GDP. Since then, though, they have stayed above 24 percent of GDP, still much higher than the previous norm.

Under Obama, the government is not losing weight. It is getting fatter less rapidly than before. Dieters normally don't claim success when their pants keep getting bigger.

But if there is anyone who has no grounds to fault the president for fiscal recklessness, it's Republicans. The Wall Street Journal, however, recently ran an editorial titled "Obama's Debt Boom," which said that when it comes to debt, Obama "is taking America to a place it has never been."

Maybe so, but he couldn't have done it without the GOP. Under Bush, the budget surplus—yes, we once had a federal budget surplus—vanished, giving way to repeated deficits running into the hundreds of billions.

Under Bush, the publicly held federal debt more than doubled. One reason Obama has run deficits is that he has to cover the interest payments for all the borrowing done before he took over.

Bush, it's worth noting, didn't launch his spending spree in his final fiscal year. He did it in his first. Between 2001 and 2008, federal spending rose by 31 percent, after adjustment for inflation, and went from 18.2 percent of GDP to 20.8 percent—a 14 percent increase. Oh, and then there was the 2009 deluge of red ink, most of which came out Bush's hose.

Even those numbers fail to capture the full splendor of his fiscal explosion. Bush brought about the biggest new entitlement program since Lyndon Johnson's day, in the form of the Medicare prescription drug program.

It cost $67 billion last year, but that's nothing compared to the long-term impact—which was to burden future taxpayers with $7 trillion in unfunded obligations. Obama has spent like there's no tomorrow, but even he has nothing to match that.

Yet both Obama and his Republican opponent will spend the next five months promising they will be stingy stewards of the public purse. You can believe that, if you were born yesterday.

Steve Chapman blogs daily at newsblogs.chicagotribune.com/steve_chapman.

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  • Randian||

    Under Bush, the budget surplus—yes, we once had a federal budget surplus

    *spittake*

    What? No we didn't.

  • tarran||

    It depends on how you account Social Security and Medicare income.

    If you view their trustfunds as separate entitites that loan their excess income to the Federal Government, then no, there was no surplus. On the Treasury Website the table of Federal Debt uses this metric, and the last annual surplus was in the Eisenhower administration.

    On the other hand, if you view them as part of the government, where their revenue is munged together with other tax revenues and their outlays are munged together with other government outlays, then the government did show a Surplus as recently as ten years ago.

    On the gripping hand, the Federal Government's accounting system is so decrepid and error prone that if a publicly traded company engaged in it its officers would find themselves doing decades of time in Club Fed.

  • Randian||

    Wasn't that a projected surplus, though?

  • tarran||

    No, the income to the United States Treasury was genuinely greater than the outlays.

  • Rasilio||

    Wait did you just make a Mote in the Gods Eye reference?

  • Almanian...still||

    My house would RULE if it had a moat...

  • robc||

    Yes he did.

    Gripping Hand references should be made much more often than they are. Its perfect for discussing government.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    http://www.factcheck.org/2008/.....r-clinton/

    Either way of accounting for Social Security there was a budget surplus until Bush/GOP took over.

    (I know, its a fact check and not used by conservatives - but they use CBO data)

  • Citizen Nothing||

    You eee-diots!

  • Red Rocks Rockin||

    Either way of accounting for Social Security there was a budget surplus until Bush/GOP took over.

    09/30/2001 5,807,463,412,200.06
    09/30/2000 5,674,178,209,886.86
    09/30/1999 5,656,270,901,615.43
    09/30/1998 5,526,193,008,897.62
    09/30/1997 5,413,146,011,397.34
    09/30/1996 5,224,810,939,135.73
    09/29/1995 4,973,982,900,709.39
    09/30/1994 4,692,749,910,013.32
    09/30/1993 4,411,488,883,139.38

    http://www.treasurydirect.gov/.....stdebt.htm

    (I know, it's straight from the government source and not used by leftists when it doesn't support their claims--but it's US Treasury data)

  • Trespassers W||

    I'm confused: how does this square with the statement

    The debt the government owes to the public decreased for a while under Clinton, but the debt was by no means erased.

    There must be wiggle room in "to the public", right? Bonds sitting in the trust fund or something? I get confused about this stuff, but I'm guessing they took a bunch of social security "contributions", spent them, and stuck some IOUs (bonds) in the trust fund. Is this essentially tarran's point?

    If so, that doesn't sound like a real surplus to me. But presumably, Clinton still comes off better than the others.

  • Red Rocks Rockin||

    The debt is divided into two categories: Debt Held By the Public and Intragovernmental Holdings. So it could drop in the former but if it goes up by more than that drop in the latter, the debt still goes up anyway.

    But regardless, Clinton still did better than most of the others. The debt hasn't actually gone down an annualized basis since 1957.

  • ||

    You're basically correct. A more complete explanation can be found here: http://www.craigsteiner.us/articles/16

  • Anonymous Coward||

    Yes, it was a projected budget surplus, based on the assumption that the dot-com bubble would never burst (just like the housing bubble would never burst) and all of those sweet, sweet capital gains taxes would roll in forever. There was also the cuts to military budget to consider. So if everything fell perfectly into place and nothing went wrong with the CBO's prediction (and that's all it was, a prediction), then yes, there would have been a budget surplus over a 10-year period.

    But predictions don't often survive reality's gentle caress.

  • Red Rocks Rockin||

    It's stupid that they always use 10-year projections, given that the recession cycle is 7-10 years.

  • Sevo||

    "given that the recession cycle is 7-10 years."

    Hey, give Obama a chance! He might drag this one far longer than anyone has since FDR.

  • Pro Libertate||

    What? Who thinks that? I mean, I know people lie about thinking that, but who really thinks it?

  • ant1sthenes||

    I don't know if they're lying. I mean, I imagine some North Koreans are so broken that they truly believe they're living in some sort of paradise.

  • Randian||

    It's coming up in left wing talking points and will no doubt make its way into ads coming to a state near you soon.

    Exhibit A: Dishonest chart is Dishonest, where somehow a 2% drop in year-over-year spending is a "gobsmacking drop".

  • Trespassers W||

    Shriek: "Spending was -2% in 2012!"

    The big lie of this chart is that it includes state and local spending.

  • Pro Libertate||

    All the statists have now are lies. The evidence is overwhelming against the spendathon. Here and overseas. It's time to grow up.

  • Bill Dalasio||

    Actually, there's also the fact that the chart itself is presented in percent changes. Even the chart itself shows a massive increase in 2008-2009 and 2009-2010. Just to get back to baseline you'd need a massive negative.

  • Trespassers W||

    Yep. It's probably accurate for what it is, but it's intentionally misleading.

    Count on Shriek to just memorize "spending was [sic] -2% in 2012" and trot out this little fact from time to time.

  • tarran||

    One of the interesting phenomena that pops up in representative government is the vicious positive feedback loop between government propaganda and voter demands on politicians.

    The drug war is a wonderful case in point, where a moral panic was seized upon by politicians for electoral gain. They passed laws to fight the scourge of drugs. To promote their war they got the governemnt to fund propaganda about the scourge of drugs. The electorate buys into the propaganda and demands more vigorous prohibition efforts, and the politicians who refuse to pander risk losing their votes, so they dial up the war, which has the effect of dialing up the propaganda etc.

    When it comes to entitlements this phenomenon is in full force. Most people don't understand anything about economics, and to them the governement is a magical money machine. The politicians who promote this view keep getting elected. These same politicians have been very adept at coming up with new ways to prop up an increasingly untenable balance sheet. To the public, these succesful efforts to kick the can down the road are empirical data proving that the worry-warts are wrong.

    The politicians are running out of options, though. Eventually the house of cards *will* collapse.

  • ||

    One of the interesting phenomena that pops up in representative government is the vicious positive feedback loop between government propaganda and voter demands on politicians.

    Although Christopher Snowdon's Sock Puppets: How the government lobbies itself and why (see PDF) applies to the UK, I would imagine that the situation isn't so much different in the US.

  • T o n y||

    Speaking of the cult of the presidency... It's not Obama or Bush doing the spending and who are responsible for the state of the budget, it's Congress. Across both administrations it's mostly Republicans who've spent on things without paying for them. Sticking Obama with the budget deficit, as if Congress would allow anything to be done about it, is 100% Republican political strategy.

  • tarran||

    SO I take it you accept that the Democratic party was responsible for the parlous state of Federal finances at the end of Bush I's term?

  • Randian||

    You know, I thought you meant perilous, but you didn't.

    +50 quatloos to tarran.

  • T o n y||

    Nope, it's mostly Republicans. The fact that the president has veto power is important, so let me add that caveat.

    You guys have no leg to stand on, truly. You support Republican economic policies, and don't lie and say that's not true. All Republicans do is run up deficits and cause recessions. Historically, the strongest economic growth happened under higher taxes on the rich rather than lower. In short, everything you believe is bullshit, and that's because you are incapable of separating empirical facts from your moral obsessions, and you require them to align even when they don't.

  • sarcasmic||

    You support Republican economic policies, and don't lie and say that's not true.

    Straw men are made of straw.

  • Lord Humungus||

    the straw man LOOMS!

  • ||

    Don't. Fucking. Respond. To. It. Are you retarded? It's what it wants, and you walk right into it.

  • Sevo||

    You're right, Epi. It's Thursday.

  • SIV||

    That goes double for shriek.

  • Rasilio||

    No most around these parts support the policies represented by Republican rhetoric, not the actual policies they implement.

    Further you are an idiot who still does not understand the difference between top marginal tax rates and effective tax rates. The fact is that "the rich" are paying only very slightly lower effective tax rates than their peak, the upper middle class (borderline rich) are paying massively higher effective tax rates, and everyone else is paying less.

  • ant1sthenes||

    We support cutting spending, and not as a peripheral economic notion. Do Republicans cut spending? If so, then I guess you could say we support Republican economic policies. If not, then you're yet again full of shit.

  • KPres||

    "Historically, the strongest economic growth happened under higher taxes on the rich rather than lower."

    I assume you mean the post-war era, when gov't spending as a % of GDP was MUCH LOWER than it is today, especially gov't spending on social programs, the shit that Democrats love so much.

    So yes, taxes on the rich were slightly higher (effective top marginal rates were still in the 30s for most of it). But taxes on the poor were also higher (no EITC).

    Bottom line is that the post-war era was much closer to the libertarian ideal than the progressive.

  • ||

    So the Democrats who comprised the majority in both houses from 2007 to 2011 were actually "mostly Republicans". Gotcha. Would that be an "empirical fact", or are you just requiring your political obsessions to align with reality even when they don't?

  • sarcasmic||

    SO I take it you accept that the Democratic party was responsible for the parlous state of Federal finances at the end of Bush I's term?

    No.

    When it's a Republican president and Democrat congress, it's the president's fault.
    When it's a Democrat president and Republican congress, it's congress' fault.
    When Republicans control both, it's obviously their fault.
    When Democrats control both, it's Republican obstructionism.

    Get it?

  • tarran||

    I got it!

    You've demonstrated that Tony thinks the Democratic Party is utterly inept.

  • sarcasmic||

    Tony doesn't think anything. He emotes.

  • ||

    No, it doesn't. It gets you to respond to it, and you do, like a fool.

  • T o n y||

    There are days when I think that. It's certainly true that, in terms of waging an all-out ideological war on common sense and facts, the Republicans are anything but inept.

  • Red Rocks Rockin||

    It's certainly true that, in terms of waging an all-out ideological war on common sense and facts, the Republicans are anything but inept.

    When it comes to waging all out ideological war on common sense and facts, you're William Tecumseh Sherman.

  • KDN||

    He's Genghis goddamn Khan in that respect.

  • Auric Demonocles||

    When Obama signs a spending bill he's responsible for it. Doubly so in the cases where he calls for the bills.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    Yes, he is responsible for his $800 billion stimulus (1/3 of which was tax cuts) but that was the last spending bill. OBamacare starts big spending in 2014.

    And that stimulus bill was NOT put into the fy 2009 numbers credited to Bush.

    The CBO put Bush's final tally at $3.52 trillion for fy 2009.

  • Auric Demonocles||

    Yes, he is responsible for his $800 billion stimulus (1/3 of which was tax cuts) but that was the last spending bill.

    So the government hasn't spent any money since the stimulus?

  • Trespassers W||

    Big numbers.

    No context.

    You just got FACT PWNED, wingnuts!

  • Anonymous Coward||

    And that stimulus bill was NOT put into the fy 2009 numbers credited to Bush.

    And that would be fine, except for the fact that Obama signed H.R. 1105, the FY 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Act on March 11, 2009.

    FY 2009 spending = owned by Barack, not W.

  • Restoras||

    Don't feed the dishonest douche.

  • Restoras||

    Check that, Don't feed the dishonest douches.

  • Brutus||

    You're right about Congress, but you don't know what you're talking about regarding deficits. As bad as the Republicans were, they still managed to get the deficit down to around $160B in the last FY they were in power. Once the Pelosi/Reid gang got into power, they tripled the deficit the first FY and then tripled it again the next.

  • ant1sthenes||

    Well, no, it actually is the executive branch that is doing the spending. Congress decides how much money they're allowed to spend. Or fails to make any decision. If we're getting technical.

  • KDN||

    That's the way it should work, but the power not to spend is no longer granted to the Presidency. It might be the only area where the executive deserves more power.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    It's not Obama or Bush doing the spending and who are responsible for the state of the budget, it's Congress.

    Yes, because Barry hasn't signed a single stimulus bill, or appropriations bill, or Obamacare, or automotive union bailout bill.

    Tony w/spaces, you are the worst sockpuppet EVER.

  • MikeJL||

    Didn't republicans control congress for the last six years of the (almost surplus) Clinton presidency?

  • Spoonman.||

    Stop feeding the dipshits. They will never listen to reason, or reason, for that matter.

  • Sevo||

    But it's fun watching shriek get dizzy from all the spinning he does.

  • T||

    I think that's a drink.

  • robc||

    OT: I just either the greatest wikipedia hoax or a really cool fact.

    In 1939, Hitler sued Alan Cranston for copyright violation in CT courts. And won.

  • Lord Humungus||

    any relation to Lamont Cranston?
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Shadow

  • Almanian...still||

    JP McCarthy (RIP) used to refer to him all the time on his show on WJR back in the day.

    I still miss him.

  • SIV||

  • robc||

    It was old news in 1988 too.

    I just hadnt heard this about him until today, thought it was kind of cool.

    Alan Cranston now has 2 points in his favor:

    1. Pissed off Hitler
    2. Stuck legalization of home brewing amendment into some law.

  • juris imprudent||

    Against hundreds if not thousands of points not in his favor. Not exactly something to get all excited about.

  • ||

    Chapman's article sort of talks around without actually getting to the point. Here's the point:

    1. Obama has not increased spending very quickly from 2009, but 2009 was an outlier year in spending due to TARPs and bailouts.

    2. Obama has increased the deficit very quickly, but since the rate of spending has not increased quickly, it's mostly due to lost tax revenue from the Depression.

    3. "Obama" is a synedoche for the interplay of the President and Congress. Both Democrats and Republicans in Congress are spending wildly without paying for it.

  • Rich||

    Don't feed the dishonest synedoche.

  • Almanian...still||

    Didn't Moog release one of the first Synedoches™ back in the 70's?

  • T||

    I think you can get a decent software emulator for it now. Ask Lord Humungous, he's the resident synth guy.

  • T||

    2009 was an outlier, and spending after should have dropped because, hey no extraordinary events like TARP! But the budget didn't drop, and that can be laid directly on the idjits now in office.

  • CE||

    Oh, don't pass the buck to Congress. The budgets Obama sent them were pretty close to what was passed. It's not as if he was calling for 20 percent spending cuts, and Congress loaded up his lean offerings with fat.

  • ||

    Budgets? We don't need no stinking budgets!

  • Almanian...still||

    climbing the fence into the lion enclosure at the zoo

    It's not the climbing of the fence that's so much at issue, as it is the jumping over into the lions' living quarters once one has reached the top.

    And President Obama (PBUH) is one Leapin' Kenyan Flyin' Hawaiian Soaring Chicagoan Wall-Jumpin' Washingtonian.

  • Enjoy Every Sandwich||

    Wait a minute. The "progressive" mantra is that what our economy needs is lots and lots of government spending--"Keynesian stimulus" and all that. And "austerity" (defined as "not increasing spending by a big shitload") is EEEEEEVVVVVVUUUUULLLLLL!

    So now Obama is touting how austere he is? Fuck, is anybody paying attention?

  • Red Rocks Rockin||

    Under Bush, the publicly held federal debt more than doubled. One reason Obama has run deficits is that he has to cover the interest payments for all the borrowing done before he took over.

    Interest payments on the debt totaled $230 billion last year. Not an insignificant number--it's the fifth highest expense on the balance sheet at this point--but it's pretty damn small compared to defense, healthcare, SS, and welfare. Interest on the debt is less than half of any one of those items.

    http://www.usgovernmentspendin.....1n#usgs302

    It also doesn't help that the national debt under Obama has grown more in 3.5 years than it did in Bush's 8 years.

  • R C Dean||

    But see, Rocks, Presidents are not responsible for any spending during the first 8 or 9 months of their administration. They are the helpless pawns of the previous administration's budget.

    And, after that, they are only responsible for the increase over that budget.

    On 09/30/2009, debt held by the public was $7.5T. Today, its right around $11T. Approximately one-third of it ($3.5T) was accrued during the period when even the Obamabots can't blame Bush. And that means that they can't even blame Bush for 1/3 of the interest payable.

  • Red Rocks Rockin||

    But see, Rocks, Presidents are not responsible for any spending during the first 8 or 9 months of their administration. They are the helpless pawns of the previous administration's budget.

    Except in Obama's case, there was never a budget passed when he came into office. Bush had threatened to veto the modified one Congress was about to send him because it was $400 billion over what he wanted. So they sat on it, waited until Obama came in, then passed that budget plus the extra $400 billion.

    I've got no problem with dinging Bush for crafting a budget that would already have been a deficit-increaser even without TARP. But because a budget hadn't actually been passed yet, Obama could have gone in a completely different direction, and he didn't.

    Since he didn't, I went with the debt accumulations that occurred beginning with the inauguration dates of both Presidencies.

  • Bill Dalasio||

    Supporters of the administration calling spending growth restrained are being dishonest. If, after years of scrimping and saving, a couple bought their daughter a $100K wedding then proceeded to spend just as muich as they did during the wedding year each year in the future, they could honestly say that they had no spending growth after the wedding year. Anyone who doesn't say their spending has escalated dramatically is bullshitting.

  • R C Dean||

    This administration has a positive genius for contradicting itself.

    On the one hand, the economy is doing OK. On the other, the Republicans are monsters for not passing Obama's bills to revive the economy.

    On the one hand, our economic problems are the Republican's fault for not passing mo biggah stimulus bills. On the other, Obama is personally responsible for keeping spending under control.

  • ||

    Baseline budgeting, FTW! As long as the jackoff before you went on an orgiastic spending binge that blew all past budgets to smithereens, you can maintain that insane level of spending and call yourself a moderate budget hawk while accumulating 5 trillion dollars in new debt in 3.5 years. So easy a government can do it!

  • ||

    When you're running a deficit of over a trillion dollars for the fourth consecutive year, prudence counsels http://www.lunettesporto.com/l.....-3_21.html that you stay as far away from the subject as possible, rather than seek out opportunities to impale yourself on it. Yet even the president has been boasting of his restraint.

  • joy||

    This is the equivalent of saying Barack Obama wasn't born in Hawaii, and maybe Nutting figured that if some people will believe that, http://www.petwinkel.com/pet-new-era-c-55.html they will believe anything.

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