Screw Clinton: Obama is Worst White House Spender Since Mary Lincoln. Or George W. Bush.

As Peter Suderman notes, Bill Clinton's widely hailed speech (transcript here) at last night's Democratic National Convention was a classic political nostalgia act: We had good times together as a country, didn't we?, cooed Bill Clinton, so vote for the guy I'm endorsing now. C'mon, you'll do it for me now, won't you, baby?

Whether that bait-and-switch works with undecided voters, Clinton's speech was least convincing whenever he invoked actual governing strategies and policies employed by Obama.

Clinton not only governed differently than Obama, he pursued substantially different policies as well. Part of this was the result of politics. After a disastrous first couple of years in terms of retail politics - largely due to his thankfully inept attempt to foist a terrible health-care overhaul on the country - Clinton found himself face to face with the unthinkable: a Republican majority in the House (the GOP winning the Senate was thinkable, if relatively rare).

So long, health insurance reform and all other grand plans! Hello, the "incredible shrinking president," the end of the era of big government, "is Clinton relevant?" headlines, and all that. Clinton had to work with the Republicans and did, but not simply out of convenience. On major matters - such as NAFTA and free trade more generally and on welfare reform - he shared Republican goals (and was often at odds with his own party).

Clinton was especially strong on budgeting. As the president who oversaw the production a budget in which outlays and revenues kinda sorta matched up, the Man from Hope can speak with great authority about balance sheets (and please spare me the crabbing about how it wasn't really a balanced budget; while I agree, there's no question that Clinton has the best record in terms of spending vs. revenue of any recent president). It's worth pointing out that if any recent president destroyed the idea that trying to keep revenues and outlays in line is a worthwhile pursuit, it was George W. Bush (whose veep famously crowed that "deficits don't matter").

Yet here's Clinton talking up Obama's fiscal rectitude:

Now, what has the president done? He has offered a reasonable plan of $4 trillion in debt reduction over a decade, with $2.5 trillion coming from -- for every $2.5 trillion in spending cuts, he raises a dollar in new revenues, 2.5 to 1. And he has tight controls on future spending. That’s the kind of balanced approach proposed by the Simpson-Bowles commission, a bipartisan commission.

If this is supposed to show the seriousness of the Obama budget plan, you've got to be kidding (and that's leaving aside the fact that Obama has failed to finish a budget - and kick the Democratic Senate's ass into gear - in years). Obama is the worst spender (see table 1.3) to live in the White House since Mary Todd Lincoln. Or, same thing, since George W. Bush, that well-known big-government disaster.

Here is the relevant table from Barack Obama's latest proposed budget plan. Check out the spending and revenue totals to get a sense of just how sad a (highly dubious!) promise of $4 trillion in debt reduction over a decade's time is.

Obama would have federal spending in current dollars increase from about $3.8 trillion in 2013 to $5.8 trillion in 2022. Nowhere does he dream of coming close to paying for such increases (and that's already generating revenue estimates predicated upon rosy scenarios of economic growth).

To be fair, the GOP plan - authored by Republican vice presidential pick Rep. Paul Ryan - isn't much different or better. It has us spending $3.5 trillion in 2013 and $4.9 trillion in 2022 and, just like Obama's plan, is filled with rosy growth projections and budget deficits in every year.

To his credit, Clinton spoke the unspeakable by actually talking about the problems that long-term debt and deficits pose to the future of the country. He even hinted that the party might have to end at some point.

In this, he echoed none other than candidate Barack Obama, who long ago (October 2008) told an audience in Toledo:

We've lived through an era of easy money, in which we were allowed and even encouraged to spend without limits; to borrow instead of save....

Once we get past the present emergency, which requires immediate new investments, we have to break that cycle of debt.

I'm starting to be convinced that the passage above is the key to all the problems that we're facing and all the smoke being blown by top-line Democrats and Republicans. Despite the hole we're in - and the mounting evidence that carrying massive debt loads kills economic growth independent of interest rates and other things - all they talk about is spending more (on education, defense, unemployment, Medicare, what-have-you) and making credit easier for the right kind of people (Dems and Reps differ on the specifics). That's why both budget plans from both parties goose spending, despite a dozen years of massive increases.

Yet deep down, in their heart of hearts and brain of brains, they know that we need to pull the plug on historic increases in spending at the federal level. "Once we get past the present emergency..." - by which Obama and Romney, the Dems and the Reps, mean the perpetual emergency, which they hope to maintain from now until doomsday. Because when the emergency is over, so is the party.

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  • cw||

    Alt-text for the Time pic: "Somebody shoulda warned Monica."

  • LTC(ret) John||

    I look forward to all of you getting to live the fiscal high life that we here in Illinois have been enjoying!

  • John||

    Obama is worse than any of them. At least Bush had a budget. The complete unwillingness to pass a budget is one of the worst most dishonest things about Obama.

  • geo1113||

    Yes, but if he produced a budget , he could have been held accountabe for it.

  • Adam330||

    Is that really his doing? I put that one on Harry Reid for the most part. Obama has submitted budgets to Congress. He could call Reid out in public or pressure him in private, but I think primary fault goes to Reid.

  • John||

    True. But he hasn't exactly put any pressure on Reid to change.

  • Randian||

    Well, you know how little Obama appears on the media.

  • geo1113||

    Harry doesn't have time for budgets. He needs time to get in front of the cameras to call Mitt Romney a tax cheat.

  • ||

    Also, cowboy poetry festivals.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Once we get past the present emergency, which requires immediate new investments, we have to break that cycle of debt.

    Candidate Obama may have meant it, but I doubt it. Like the terror threat, the present emergency was never going to end. Investing taxpayer funds in union bosses was always going to be necessary. (At least until he was term limited out.)

  • Almanian's Evil Twin||

    No, seriously, after this last glass of Scotch, I'm done drinking. Just lemme finish this one...

  • Ken Shultz||

    Clinton was especially strong on budgeting. As the president who oversaw the production a budget in which outlays and revenues kinda sorta matched up, the Man from Hope can speak with great authority about balance sheets

    That budget was balanced over Clinton's objections. Giving Clinton the credit for winning the budget battle by balancing the budget is like giving Saddam Hussein credit for winning the Iraq War by stepping down.

    Clinton shut down the government by way of vetoing the budget--because Clinton refused to make the necessary cuts to get to surplus.

    Somehow, in Democrat partisan memory? Up became down, right became wrong, facts became imagination, and Clinton balanced the budget--which in their minds had nothing to do with Gingrich insisting on the necessary cuts to get to surplus?

    I mean, consider how truly implausible the Democrats' story on this really is. In the Democrats' imagination, Clinton wanted to cut the budget so badly, but Gingrich wanted to keep spending?

    That fantasy has no basis in reality. Look for yourselves...

    Somebody needs to set the record straight on what Clinton did and didn't do. And Clinton obstinately insisting on a balanced budget over Gingrich's objections? Is the exact opposite of what actually happened.

  • o3||

    facts are stupid things

  • WTF||

    And if anyone knows stupid, it's urine.

  • o3||

    and ronald reagan

  • Sevo||

    o3| 9.6.12 @ 10:21AM |#
    "and ronald reagan"

    Gee, pretty clever. Why didn't you just post "your momma!". It'd make you look smarter than you are.

  • Ken Shultz||

    For some reason? To some people?

    Saying "Ronald Reagan" is a legitimate response to almost any argument for some reason.

    Shrike's like that, too.

    He's like the boogieman to them. Ronald Reagan might be hiding under you bed! Ronald Reagan might be hiding in your closet!

    Watch out, or Ronald Reagan's gonna getcha!

  • Calidissident||

    Reagan Smash!

  • Bobarian||

    Most of Bill Clinton's 'accomplishments' were due to an extraordinary ability to stand around, see what was working, or polling well, and jump in front of it at the last second and say 'Y'all look at what I did'.

    Newt Gingrich is an asshat, but he had a lot more to do with Clinton's successes that Bill did.

  • ubercynic||

    My opinion of Reagan hasn't changed in more than thirty years: Very nearly everyone who really, really hates him is a lot more wrong than he was. Only one exception comes readily to mind.

  • John||

    And don't forget the Congress was bound by Gram Rudman and the budget deal of 1990. The Clinton Surplus was set up by the 1990 Congress and George Bush I

  • Ken Shultz||

    The "Clinton surplus" was set up by Newt Gingrich, the Contract with America, and the huge victory the Republicans had in the election of 1994.

    In the election of 1994, the Republicans took control of the House for the first time since 1954!,_1994

    A 54 seat swing!

    I became disgusted with the Republicans myself during the Bush the Lesser Administration, but that's no reason not to give them the credit for what they actually did.

    Midterms since Reagan have not been kind to Democratic Presidents, with Obama suffering a similar midterm defeat at the hands of the Tea Party.

    We should try to remember that before the current leadership in the House, before the Bush the Lesser era, the Republicans were so committed to cutting spending, that when the president blamed them for shutting the government down, the Republicans in the House didn't even blink!

    Oh, to have such leadership in the House again!

    Gingrich may be a spoof of his former self now, but there's no reason to pretend he didn't do what he actually did back in the mid-'90s. If we ever get the chance to slash the budget again, we might look to what worked once in the past to see how to make that happen.

  • GW||

    The "Clinton Surplus" is a myth. This is the ultimate example of telling a lie often enough that people take it as truth. We NEVER had a surplus. We came close, and even at that, it was simply fueled by the dot com bubble. But the debt went UP every year.

    Surplus my ass. But Democrats love to say it because it happened under Clinton's watch, and Republicans love to say it because it happened under a Republican Congress.

    This bullshit myth just won't go away.

  • Ken Shultz||

    Actually, I think you just like to deny it was a surplus because it happened while Clinton was in the White House.

    The Republicans slashed the hell out of budget, and Clinton doesn't deserve hardly any credit for that.

    But that doesn't mean the budget wasn't slashed. It was.

    It's important not to play the Democrats' games with them. They let whether a fact is good or bad for the president determine whether the fact is true or false. We should try to debunk that sort of thinking--not engage in it ourselves.

    Yes, the budget was slashed about as good as it's ever going to be while Clinton was president. AND it was slashed over President Clinton's objections. Clinton vetoed continuing resolutions that would have avoided a government shutdown rather than slash the budget...

    Clinton shut the government down in a futile attempt to stop the Republicans from balancing the budget.

    So, he doesn't deserve any credit for balancing the budget.

  • GW||

    No, I like to deny it because it's factually wrong. You can go to the treasury's own website and see that our national debt INCREASED every year that there was a claimed "surplus".

    No one deserves credit for balancing the budget because it never happened.

  • Ken Shultz||

    If our budget deficit ever gets that good again?

    We should build a monument on the National Mall to whomever is responsible.

  • GW||

    Are you backpedaling now? First it was a surplus, now you're wanting to build a monument to anyone who can make the deficit "that good again".

    NO ONE was responsible. Spending increased year after year, and the previous tax changes were years earlier. It was during an economic boom and a bubble, and the feds just couldn't figure out how to spend the increased revenue fast enough. Why balance the budget when you can give out more free shit for the same amount of deficit spending?

    I really thought you guys would have been able to figure that out by now.

    The ultimate dead giveaway that it's bullshit is this: if government did it then, why can't it do it now? And the answer is simple: it didn't do anything then.

  • Ken Shultz||

    I'm saying that whether it was a surplus or not doesn't matter as much as whether we ever get anywhere close to what everyone is calling a surplus.

    If we ever get to the point where we can legitimately project a surplus again (before spending it), that'll be a miracle.

    I'm no more interested in playing word games with you than I am in playing them with Clinton or Obama. The fact is that whatever it is people are talking about when they talk about the surplus we had during the Clinton presidency is vastly, immensely, hugely superior to what we have now.

    You don't want to call it a surplus? Fine. But let's try not to miss the forest for the trees on this one. When you denigrate the way our budget was back then, you make it sound like working our way back to where we were at that point is pointless. if low deficits aren't better?

  • GW||

    And also, the budget wasn't "slashed". If you think so, you need to provide some documentation that spending actually went DOWN during those years.

    Pack a lunch, because you'll have a really tough time finding it.

  • Ken Shultz||

    The budget is how much we plan to spend.

    If you don't think slashing how much we're spending is progress, then is progress even possible in your world without fully balancing the budget?

    If I'm making $50,000 a year and spending $100,000, you don't think slashing my spending to $55,000 a year is progress?

  • GW||

    I don't think it's progress, but then again, I live in financial reality. The fact that spending $100k a year on a $50k salary is ludicrous doesn't make spending "only" 10% more than you earn appropriate.

    Your budget is only as good as your willingness to stick to it.

  • Calidissident||

    The budget was not slashed Ken. Planned increases in future spending were reduced, but spending did not decrease

  • Ken Shultz||

    There was less spending than there would have been otherwise.

    And taking on less debt than you had planned to take on before is progress.

    Again, if we implemented anything anywhere near as good right now today?

    It would be a miracle.

  • Calidissident||

    I don't disagree with those statements, but that doesn't mean it was slashed, which is all I was saying. However, there were environmental factors (booming economy that resulted in revenues that were abnormally high as % of GDP, fewer retirees/higher labor force participation, not as much "mandatory" spending, no WOT) that make it difficult to replicate that with the current political establishment in place

  • Emmerson Biggins||

    So we all agree there was no surplus?


  • Emperor Wears No Clothes||

    I'd rather we all agree to avoid placing a question mark at the end of rhetorical questions.

  • Adam330||

    It's also kind of funny how he gets credit for welfare reform after he vetoed it twice. He only signed it because of overwhelming political pressure.

  • Ken Shultz||

    The election of 1994 changed his mind about a lot of things.

    The same thing happened to Obama after the Tea Party victory during his midterm. Obama used to be a lot more militant and aggressive than he is now, and we should keep that in mind...

    The relatively moderate president we have now isn't likely to be the one we're going to get after November should he win. Obama only moderated because of the fear that he wouldn't get reelected--after the Tea Party had their big victory.

    If Obama wins reelection, then there won't be anything holding him back anymore. He'll be more like the Obama we got right after he was elected...back when he nationalized two-thirds of the American auto industry, brought us ObamaCare, etc.

    If Obama wins reelection, he's almost certainly takin' the gloves off.

  • Mr. Soul||

    and if he loses, perpare for the mother-of-all lameduck sessions. Every democrat activist that is in the klink will be at Romney's innauguration.

  • Ken Shultz||

    And Clinton obstinately insisting on a balanced budget over Gingrich's objections? Is the exact opposite of what actually happened.

    Gingrich held Clinton's feet to the fire.

    Clinton's opinion polls were dropping like a rock during the shutdown.

    Gingrich dragged president Clinton kicking and screaming the whole way. Clinton lost the budget battle with Newt Gingrich--and because Clinton lost the budget battle? that's why we ended up in surplus.

    The budget wasn't balanced becasue Clinton was victorious in the budget battle--the budget was balanced over Clinton's objections. Clinton vetoed the budget and shut the government down--because he didn't want to make Gingrich's cuts!

    Gingrich lost the PR battle after the budget battle was over, but that's about Clinton's PR machine. That has nothing to do with what actually happened.

  • Jeff||

    for every $2.5 trillion in spending cuts, he raises a dollar in new revenues

    Sounds good!

  • LTC(ret) John||

    I'd send them a five spot to pay for that!

  • geo1113||

    Like Bluto Blutarski, Clinton was on a roll.

  • Randian||

    The cuts still would never materialize.

  • ||

    I'm started to be convinced that the passage above is the key to all the problems that we're facing and all the smoke being blown by top-line Democrats and Republicans.

    You're started (sic) to be convinced? I was convinced back when Reagan was stacking dollar bills to the moon.

  • Ken Shultz||

    Ronald Reagan's hiding under your bed, Warren!

  • ||

    It wouldn't bother me so much if Al Haig didn't keep drooping by asking if he could come out and play.

  • earthandweather||

    "when the emergency is over, so is the party" The policy of eternal emergency measures and the temporary, never ending, sacrifices they require. I can tell we are making progress though - The progressives / statists have been making a lot of ugly noise lately about libertarian and objectivist thought. I believe our righteous rhetoric has slowly been forcing them to become self-aware and, like James Taggart at the end of Atlas Shrugged, they aren't taking it well.

  • XM||

    "I didn't have sex with that woman".

    I heard the guy who exposed the sordid affair has his own website now.

  • Gmason||

    The pols face their worst nightmare. What if we cut the federal budget by 50% and nobody notices?
    Americans might find out there would be no dead bodies laying in the streets, they can manage just fine minus tens of thousands of bureaucrats and when people get to keep more of their own money in their own pocket, the economy actually grows!

    I'm not sure if anyone in either party wants to see that day, but I can dream!

  • pga301||

    I guess Nick if you are unhappy with the Republican Ryan budget why don't you use your magic to give us a new electorate that already might balk at these modest proposals. Then maybe I can get excited about your pox on both your houses approach. I got another idea. Let's see if we can even do this much and THEN try doing more. How about that. This country voted 53% for a Freshman Senator saying Hope and Change and promising the moon. Now you want to 4 years later propose massive changes in spending during a campiagn with these SAME voters. What color is the sky in the Libertarian world?

  • BenDFW||

    From what I am seeing from the DNC, once you have healthcare, you become an immortal.

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  • theakeman||

    First you tax, then you spend. Google: Beware of the Tax Zombies

  • Dr. Thaddeus Tingleberry||

    Hey Nick:

    Can I assume we'll read nothing about the impact of the Israel First crowd on votes at both the RNC and DNC?


    What about the Trojan Horsing of the Libertarian Party?


  • Dr. Thaddeus Tingleberry||

    The influnce of Zionism (Jewish and Christian both) on the world is one of the major disastrous worldviews going.

    It has trampled democracy. It has lied us to war. It is fat, pale men with blind allegiance to a foreign land sending the 'goys' they generally look down upon (I know it's uncomfortable, the polite lie about the Talmud dealing in 'universalist' ethics like Christianity is far more easy to sell) die.

    And your own party is hijacked, delegates' votes are shredded if they stand in the way of the Zionist 5th column.

    And you will remain silent, pondering the shimmering inconsequentials of a dead empire - because you are afraid of being called a name by those who use it expressly to silence all dissent.

  • Dr. Thaddeus Tingleberry||

    Abandon ship, fellas. There is no hope left at all.

    Agents of a foreign, expansionist ethnarchy have hijacked this nation's blood and treasure and everyone labors under the misconception that it is racial antipathy against Jews per se to question the impact of the disproportionate influence of them qua group - but most especially the zionist likudniks who count on your fear, ignorance, and silence.

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