Budget

The Obama Spending Binge

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Liberal bloggers have been passing around a piece by Rex Nutting at Market Watch arguing that although "almost everyone believes that Obama has presided over a massive increase in federal spending," in fact, "it didn't happen."

Except, well, it did.

Nutting's evidence consists of the a chart showing that the annualized growth of federal spending from 2010-2013 is 1.4 percent, compared with 7.3 percent from 2002-2005 during George Bush's first term and 8.1 percent from 2006-2009 during Bush's second term.

Nutting has a half a point: Federal spending did rise considerably during the 2009 fiscal year: Between 2001 and 2008, federal outlays (spending) rose from $1.8 trillion to $2.9 trillion, according to the Congressional Budget Office's historical spending data. That's a steep enough rise. But it's nothing compared to what happened during the next year: In 2009, outlays spiked, rising from the $2.9 trillion spent in 2008 to $3.5 trillion.

But what Obama did in subsequent budgets was stick to that newly inflated level of spending. Outlays in 2010 were just a hair short of $3.5 trillion. In 2011, they rose further, approaching $3.6 trillion.

So even if you absolve Obama of responsibility for the initial growth spike, he still presided over unprecedented spending that was out of line with the existing growth trend. Obama's average spending is far higher than under Bush or Clinton on both adjusted dollar levels and as a percentage of the economy. James Pethokoukis of The American Enterprise Institute has a handy graphic comparing annual Obama's spending as a percentage of the economy to George W. Bush's average spending as a percentage of GDP:

Make no mistake: George W. Bush was a tremendous spender, and he deserves some of the non-credit for making Obama's federal budget binge possible, especially during Obama's first year. But Obama and his fellow Democrats share the responsibility for allowing a spending spike to continue on at newly high levels, for posting record outlays and running record deficits — and for taking few if any effective steps to get the nation's economic and fiscal houses in order.