US federal spending facts (2 graphs)
from Peter Radford
Like many people I am perplexed by claims that federal spending has ‘exploded’ on Obama’s watch. The claim is generally made by someone on the right of center in politics and is stated as if it is a well known fact. So well known that no one can possibly refute it. The conversation is then meant to proceed immediately to what we can do about said ‘explosion’ and how we can restrain the Federal government.
The problem I have is factual.
Here is a chart of Federal spending from way back when:
Yes, spending has risen substantially through the years, but take a closer look. Let’s inspect that past decade:
Now the picture is somewhat different.
Instead of spending ‘exploding under Obama, it has been under control. The explosion, such as there is, took place under George W Bush. There was a sharp upward shift when the recession hit and safety net spending took off, but since then the trajectory has been fairly flat. Spending is clearly higher now than when Obama took office, but most of that increase occurred in the midst of crisis. There is no sign of the mythic explosion right wingers like to talk about.
So why do they? And where do they get their facts?
The first question is easy to answer.
Right wingers want there to have been an explosion because it allows them to argue for draconian cuts, especially in social programs. So inside their world the chatter is about a burst of spending that requires urgent cutting back. This is despite, as the charts show, that there has been no such burst. The ideologically pure position on the right, nowadays, is that government spending is way out of control and, that if left unattended, it will throttle the economy. Apparently runaway government spending is now a problem whereas during the Bush era it was not.
For the record: during the first four years of the Bush administration spending rose a cumulative 30%. In Obama’s first term it rose just 9%.
There is something extremely odd about this. The same folks in the Republican party who, presumably, felt fine with a 30% increase in four years, now think it is outrageous to have a 9% increase over the same timeframe.
That is absurd and hypocritical.
It would be reasonable to have objected to both. It is not reasonable under any circumstances to take the position we see today.
That second question is impossible to answer.
I have no idea where they get their facts. I have seen some right wingers claim spending has risen 37% under Obama. I cannot find such numbers. Not, at least, in any of the major databases of governments statistics. Perhaps they made it up. If so, it makes sense that the made up figure tops the Bush profligacy.
In any case, it simply isn’t true that federal spending has exploded.
Our annual budget deficit has grown sharply, not because spending grew, but because revenues slumped. That annual tax take shrank, as it always does in recessions, and it will recover in due time as the economy recovers.
We have no great immediate fiscal crisis. None.
That may be inconvenient to those who wish we did so that we would be forced to slash social spending. But the facts don’t lie.
Not the real facts at least.