May 27, 2012 5:39 AM GMT
Obama’s numbers get even higher if you look at what he proposed to spend, using CBO’s estimates of his budgets:
2012: $3.71 trillion (versus $3.65 trillion enacted)
2011: $3.80 trillion (versus $3.60 trillion enacted)
2010: $3.67 trillion (versus $3.46 trillion enacted)
So in every case, the president wanted to spend more money than he ended up getting. Nutting suggests that federal spending flattened under Obama, but another way to look at it is that it flattened at a much higher, post-emergency level — thanks in part to the efforts of lawmakers, not Obama.
Another problem with Nutting’s analysis is that the figures are viewed in isolation. Even 5.5 percent growth would put Obama between Bill Clinton and George W. Bush in terms of spending growth, but that does not take into account either inflation or the relative size of the U.S. economy. At 5.2 percent growth, Obama’s increase in spending would be nearly three times the rate of inflation. Meanwhile, Nutting pegs Ronald Reagan with 8.7 percent growth in his first term — we get 12.5 percent CAGR — but inflation then was running at 6.5 percent.
One common way to measure federal spending is to compare it to the size of the overall U.S. economy. That at least puts the level into context, helping account for population growth, inflation and other factors that affect spending. Here’s what the White House’s own budget documents show about spending as a percentage of the U.S. economy (gross domestic product):
2008: 20.8 percent
2009: 25.2 percent
2010: 24.1 percent
2011: 24.1 percent
2012: 24.3 percent
2013: 23.3 percent
In the post-war era, federal spending as a percentage of the U.S. economy has hovered around 20 percent, give or take a couple of percentage points. Under Obama, it has hit highs not seen since the end of World War II — completely the opposite of the point asserted by Carney. Part of this, of course, is a consequence of the recession, but it is also the result of a sustained higher level of spending.
We sent our analysis to Carney but did not get a response. (For another take, Daniel Mitchell of the Cato Institute has an interesting tour through the numbers, isolating various spending categories. For instance, he says debt payments should be excluded from the analysis because that is the result of earlier spending decisions by other presidents.)