Note: This story has been updated by the author at 12 noon ET.
Mother Jones does love found footage, doesn't it? The progressive mag's airing of Mitt Romney's "47 percent" comments at a fundraiser definitely hurt the former Massachusetts governor in his attempt to boot President Obama in 2012.
Now Mojo is back with the vid above, which the mag must hope will discombobulate Republicans and help put the brakes on a libertarian-leaning senator whose anti-war and anti-NSA stances draw long looks from disaffected liberals and lefties.
"Rand Paul: Jimmy Carter was better on the budget than Ronald Reagan" is how the vid begins. It shows the Kentucky senator in a variety of settings between 2007 and 2009 slagging St. Reagan as a spendthrift.
As Mediaite's Andrew Kirell points out, all of Paul's basic statements about spending under Reagan are absolutely true. The short version: Reagan spent like a drunken sailor and skipped out on the bill.
Here's a chart by Reason columnist and Mercatus Center economist Veronique de Rugy:
Paul is correct to say that Reagan was worse than Carter when it came to spending. As de Rugy does the math, Carter increased real spending 17 percent over the last budget of his predecessor, Gerald Ford. Over two terms, Reagan increased spending by 22 percent over Carter's final budget. On an annualized basis, then, Carter grew spending by 4.25 precent a year, while Reagan grew it by 2.75 percent. However, when expressed as a percentage of GDP, spending under Carter averaged 20.6 percent per year while Reagan averaged 21.6 percent. Spending typically really gears up in a second-term president's final years, so it's plausible to theorize that had Carter managed to stick around for eight years, he might have equaled or surpassed what the real-world Reagan managed. Note: The paragraph above has been edited to better reflect annual spending patterns.
When it comes to debt, there's no question that Reagan was worse. Over an eight-year reign, he tallied up $1.4 trillion in deficits, or an average of $177 billion per year. Carter—a famously cheapskate Southern Baptist—racked up just $253 billion over four years, for an average deficit of $63 billon per year. Tax revenue went up sharply under Reagan, for sure, but like a Hollywood big shot, he still managed to spend ever larger amounts, resulting in an average annual deficit of 4.1 percent of GDP. The Peanut Farmer From Plains? A relatively tiny 2.3 percent of GDP. (All this data if from the Congressional Budget Office.)
Far from being the budget hawk of lore, Dutch had no problem jacking overall spending through the roof, especially when it came to military spending. As Reagan's first budget director, David Stockman, told Reason in 2011:
reason: Reagan was famous for saying that government wasn’t the solution to the problem; government was the problem. Why wasn’t he more skeptical of Pentagon claims of what they needed and of where their financial estimates were coming from?
Stockman: That’s one of the mysteries of the time, I guess, and it’s one of the factors that led to the utter failure of spending control. He was utterly uninterested in any detail of the defense budget, of any of the claims for dollars made by the Pentagon. He gave them a blank check, without question, and that had a two-fold effect. One, it ballooned spending just as we were massively reducing the revenue. But second, it created an enormous political impasse. And that is, the spending increases were so huge in defense that it became almost impossible to get anybody to look at you with a straight face on Capitol Hill and say we’re gonna go after the food stamp program or school lunches, when you’re just showering tens of billions of dollars on ammunition accounts and spare parts replacements and a massive expansion of the Navy, which was totally uncalled for.
After trimming some programs early in his presidency, Reagan came around to pushing massive increases on just about everything, including education (a newly formed federal department he promised to kill upon taking office), Medicare (which he had denounced as "socialized medicine" in the early 1960s), and Social Security (before championing massive hikes in payroll taxes in his second term, he had once called for making Social Security voluntary).
In many ways, Reagan's late-life embrace of old-age entitlements may have been his worst spending legacy. Created to address very different times and a very different workforce, Social Security and Medicare were in dire straits by the 1980s and had Reagan tried, he might have been able to replace these fundamentally unsustainable and unfair transfer programs into more effective and lower-cost safety net programs. Instead he called saving Social Security and Medicare—a feat accomplished through massive increases in FICA rates—"the highest priority of my administration." By the end of his presidency, the combined employee-employer rate was 15 percent, up from 9.35 percent in 1981 (and more income was subjected to Social Security tax to boot).