Has Obama been fiscally responsible?
Earlier this week, MarketWatch ran a piece by Rex Nutting claiming that President Barack Obama’s spending explosion that many of us often complain about never really happened. Nutting insists, however, that spending has grown at a slower rate under Obama than any president going as far back as Ronald Reagan.
As you might expect, Democrats have jumped on this, point to the column as “proof” that Obama has been “fiscally responsible.” But this doesn’t add up, as much as they want it to, and James Pethokouis sets the record straight:
[T]here were a few problems with Nutting’s numbers. Nutting’s methodology assumes spending in the first year of a presidential term should be credited to the previous president. OK, fine. But he attributed a $410 billion spending bill in March of 2009 to George W. Bush even though it was signed by Barack Obama. Nutting also didn’t use inflation adjusted numbers.
But I did both of those and got wildly different results from Nutting, as seen in the chart at the top of this post. (Note: I looked at absolute spending as opposed to the rate of increase.)
My numbers show that spending under the ’10-’13 Obama budgets far outstrips spending by a generation of presidential predecessors. This should not be surprising since spending as a share of GDP under Obama is the highest in U.S. history outside of World War II.
We can disagree about whether all of Obama’s massive spending is a good idea or not. But we can’t factually argue about whether it happened or not. It did.
The Obama spending binge really did happen.
Pethokoukis also posted this chart, which provides a stunning visual as to how out of control President Obama has been on spending — even more so than his fiscally profligate predecessor:
It’s also important to note that George W. Bush didn’t sign the FY 2009 spending bill into law. This is a mistake I’ve made, and recently. Usually, the outgoing president makes a budget request for the fiscal year in which he will leave the White House. Yes, Bush did submit a budget request for $3.1 trillion; however, the Democratic-controlled Congress passed a $3.5 trillion budget, which was signed by Obama.
So contrary to popular belief (which I also wrote on different occasions), FY 2009 isn’t on Bush, it’s on Obama. Moreover, the lack of growth in the budget we have seen has come since Republicans took over the House last year, providing the necessary gridlock in Congress, similar to the 90’s, that keeps spending down.
Political Math also called out Nutting for his article, posting an excellent infographic that shows the absurdity of the logic and methods used to propagate the myth that Obama has somehow been “fiscally responsible”:
The January 2009 CBO estimate might have been a “best estimate of what Obama inherited”, but only in January 2009 when spending data was *very* hard to predict. January 2009 marked the worst part of the recession and the uncertainty was very high. Only a few months later, Obama’s budget estimated 2009 spending would be $400 billion higher than the CBO estimate.
But now we can look at the data, not the estimates. And we should. The spending data ended up $20 billion lower than the CBO estimate… and that included the stimulus spending (which Nutting says was $140 billion, but I’m still trying to track that number down). If that is the case, the high-end estimate for Bush’s fiscal year is $3.38 trillion. If we compare that to Obama’s 2013 budget proposal ($3.80 trillion), that’s an increase of 12.5% (3.1% annualized). Which isn’t that high, but it’s also using a baseline that is still filled with a lot of what were supposed to be 1 time expenses (TARP, Cash for Clunkers, the auto bailout, the housing credit, etc).
Second, Nutting uses the CBO baseline in place of Obama’s spending. This is easily verified and I can’t think of a serious economic pundit who would say this is OK. I can think of two reasons for doing this: Either a) Nutting is a monstrously biased ass who (rightly) figured no one in the liberal world would fact check him so he could use whatever the hell number he wanted to use or b) Nutting had no idea that the CBO baseline isn’t a budget proposal. I’m actually leaning toward the second explanation. Nutting uses so many disparate sources it seems clear he doesn’t know his way around federal finance.
Congrats, Mr. Nutting. I don’t think you’re a huge jerk, only that you’re hilariously unqualified for your job.
Finally, my biggest goal here was to point out the inconsistencies in the analysis. Nutting wants to use the 2009 CBO estimates, but only one column (only for attacking Bush on spending). He wants to compare estimates from one year to actual spending from other years to the CBO baseline from this year. And, as if he is a magical cherry-picking elf, he manages to pick just the right numbers to give him just the right data. This could be an accident. Stranger things have happened. But it seems more likely that he intended to squash a talking point by any means necessary and he went looking for the best data to do that.
I will be accused of massaging the data by people who don’t understand what I’m doing here. I’m pointing out the data massaging on Nutting’s side and calling him on it. I’m saying “If you’re going to use the CBO estimate, use the f***ing CBO estimate!” Don’t use just the part you want and then pretend like the rest of it doesn’t exist. Commit yourself to the data you’re using and follow it, even if it doesn’t go where you want it to go.
If you’re going to by Nutting’s analysis, which so many on the Left have done, you’re buying cherry picked, dishonest data. It’s as simple as that.