Mitt Romney has accused Barack Obama of igniting a “debt and spending inferno.” American Crossroads, the Karl Rove SuperPAC, says free spending by Obama “drove us $5 trillion deeper in debt.” Veep nominee Paul Ryan, who also chairs the House Budget Committee, this week accused Obama of stealing the next generation’s future with his spending spree.
All of that talk finally got me curious: Just how much HAS spending increased under President Obama? Put another way, what does a “debt and spending inferno” look like in numerical terms?
As the base year for this analysis, let’s take 2008, the last full year of George W. Bush’s presidency. You could make the argument for using 2009 as the base year, since the ‘09 spending bills had already been passed and fiscal 2009 was already almost four months underway by the time Obama took office. But to satisfy our conservative friends, we’ll take 2008 as a cleaner, less controversial starting point.
So, after adjusting for inflation, how much did federal spending increase from fiscal 2008 to fiscal 2012, which ended Oct. 1? Any guesses?
Just to give you some guidance in making that guess, federal spending under the sainted President Reagan grew by 9.6 percent from 1980 to 1984. (Again, all of these numbers are inflation-adjusted.) Under the second President Bush, with a largely Republican Congress, federal spending grew by 16.5 percent from 2000 to 2004.
So how much has it increased under Obama’s “spending inferno”? 25 percent? 35 percent?
The answer is 9.9 percent. Between 2008 and the recently completed fiscal 2012, total federal spending has increased by 9.9 percent, about the same amount as under Reagan and considerably less than under Bush.
The chart above explains a lot about how we got here. On the right-hand side, you can see the impact of the Great Recession. In inflation-adjusted terms, federal spending is up less than 10 percent from 2008, but federal revenue is down substantially, falling 18 percent from fiscal ‘08 to ‘09.
In the longer term, you can see the rate of spending growth pick up under Bush in 2001. You can see revenue falter as a result of a small recession in 2001, and then continue to slide as a result of the Bush tax cuts. Those tax cuts have permanently altered the revenue trajectory, and combined with the Great Recession account for much of our debt and deficit woes.
So, to get bring us back to where we started:
Spending growth of 9.6 percent makes you a great conservative hero.
Spending growth of 9.9 percent makes you a great conservative villain.
And spending growth of 16.5 percent, combined with large tax cuts, makes you a recent two-term president whom nobody in your party wants to mention, and sets your country on a financially dangerous glide path.
– Jay Bookman