Barack Obama, Skinflint?

I ran across this piece by Rex Nutting on Market Watch today. Nutting’s thesis is aptly summed up by the title: “Obama spending binge never happened.” He begins:

Of all the falsehoods told about President Barack Obama, the biggest whopper is the one about his reckless spending spree. … Almost everyone believes that Obama has presided over a massive increase in federal spending, an “inferno” of spending that threatens our jobs, our businesses and our children’s future. Even Democrats seem to think it’s true.

But it didn’t happen.

As John Barth put it in a very different context, this is “an Assertion Not Lightly Matched for Its Implausibility.” Where on Earth does Nutting get the idea that Obama has been a miser when it comes to the federal budget? He offers this chart:

You will immediately note one key fact about Nutting’s calculations: he begins Obama’s administration in FY 2010. That seems odd, since Obama became president in January 2009. What is going on here? Nutting’s explanation is disingenuous:

Here are the facts, according to the official government statistics:

• In the 2009 fiscal year — the last of George W. Bush’s presidency — federal spending rose by 17.9% from $2.98 trillion to $3.52 trillion. Check the official numbers at the Office of Management and Budget.

• In fiscal 2010 — the first budget under Obama — spending fell 1.8% to $3.46 trillion.

So he attributes the 2009 budget to Bush, and 2010 to Obama. This makes all the difference in the world, since Obama’s first year, 2009, was the year when federal spending exploded, in part, but by no means entirely, because of the “stimulus” bill. Federal spending in FY 2009 leaped by $535 billion–more than a half trillion dollars–compared to FY 2008. Since then, Obama and the Democrats have maintained that extraordinarily high level, but increased it only modestly. That is because the Republicans took control of the House in 2010.

But why would Nutting attribute FY 2009 spending to President Bush rather than President Obama? Obama was president for more than 2/3 of that fiscal year. Nutting implies that Bush was somehow responsible for the FY 2009 budget and the spending that eventually occurred, months after he left office. But this is incorrect. Bush never saw a FY 2009 budget. The Democratic Congress waited until Obama had been sworn in to pass a budget, and he signed the FY 2009 budget on March 12 of that year. Bush had nothing to do with it. The stimulus funds were added on top of the regular appropriations for FY 2009; Bush had nothing to do with that, either. Altogether, Congress spent more than $400 billion more in FY 2009 than Bush had asked to be appropriated in his budget proposal, which the Democrats ignored.

So Barack Obama and the Democratic Congress own the FY 2009 spending. Let’s redo the math, putting responsibility for the Democrats’ spending extravaganza in 2009 where it belongs.

In 2009, Obama and the Congress increased spending by $535 billion over the FY 2008 baseline. Spending dipped slightly in 2010 as fewer stimulus dollars were spent, and has risen again since then. If you add up the amounts by which spending in FYs 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 has exceeded the FY 2008 baseline, it is $2.44 trillion, almost exactly one-half of the $5 trillion in new debt that has been racked up during the Obama administration.

Federal spending in FY 2008 was $2,983,000,000 (rounded). In FY 2012, it is projected to be $3,796,000,000 (rounded). I am using budget, not off-budget numbers; if you add the off-budget numbers, they are worse for Obama. That means that on Obama’s watch, spending has increased by $813 billion, or 27% over the 2008 baseline. Annualizing that growth in a crude fashion, we get 6.75% per year, rather than Nutting’s 1.4%. This is, in other words, a classic case of using bogus numbers to deceive one’s readers. Barack Obama is indeed the drunken sailor that virtually every American takes him for.

UPDATE: This is another key statistic: since the Democrats took control of Congress in January 2007, federal spending has increased 39%, by more than $1 trillion.

Notice: All comments are subject to moderation. Our comments are intended to be a forum for civil discourse bearing on the subject under discussion. Commenters who stray beyond the bounds of civility or employ what we deem gratuitous vulgarity in a comment — including, but not limited to, “s***,” “f***,” “a*******,” or one of their many variants — will be banned without further notice in the sole discretion of the site moderator.