- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 5, 2012


President Obama gave a speech in Iowa recently in which he told one of the biggest whoppers of his 2012 re-election campaign.

Under increasing attack from Mitt Romney’s campaign and Republican super PACs for the unprecedented trillion-dollar deficits and $16 trillion debt he has run up during his presidency, Mr. Obama claimed he has the best fiscal record of any chief executive in the past six decades.

Here’s what the president said with a straight face: “But what my opponent didn’t tell you was that federal spending since I took office has risen at the slowest pace of any president in almost 60 years.”

That’s a rather breathtaking statement from a president who came into office when his predecessor’s budget was $2.98 trillion and who is on track to finish his four-year term in January 2013 with annual expenditures heading toward nearly $4 trillion.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, here’s how spending has soared and will continue to climb under Mr. Obama’s fiscal policies: 2008, $2.98 trillion; 2009, $3.27 trillion; 2010, $3.46 trillion; 2011, $3.60 trillion; 2012, $3.65 trillion; and 2013, $3.72 trillion.

The numbers would be worse if Congress gave Mr. Obama what he sought: $3.67 trillion in 2010, $3.80 trillion in 2011 and $3.71 trillion in 2012.

There are other ways to measure how the government’s spending has exploded under Mr. Obama, and I’ll get to those in a minute.

But first, a little background on how the White House and its news-media cronies are pushing the myth that Mr. Obama is one of the most frugal presidents since Calvin Coolidge.

Late last month, Rex Nutting of MarketWatch wrote a column headlined “Obama spending binge never happened.”

In that column, Mr. Nutting wrote this: “Over Obama’s four budget years, federal spending is on track to rise from $3.52 trillion to $3.58 trillion, an annualized increase of just 0.4 percent.”

Not long after that piece appeared, White House press secretary Jay Carney was answering questions at his daily briefing about the president’s budgetary track record and the criticism it was getting from Republican TV campaign ads.

Mr. Carney pointed his questioners to Mr. Nutting’s column, saying that the attacks on Mr. Obama as a big spender were false.

“I simply make the point, as an editor might say, to check it out. Do not buy into the BS that you hear about spending and fiscal constraint with regard to this administration. I think doing so is a sign of sloth and laziness.”

Shortly after that, Mr. Obama made his unbelievable statement that he had the best record of any president going back to Dwight D. Eisenhower’s administration.

For the record, total budget outlays under Eisenhower inched up from $76.1 billion in 1953 to $76.6 billion in his first four years. He left office with his budget at a modest $92.2 billion.

Meantime, Mr. Carney’s May 23 scolding caught the eye of The Washington Post’s fact checker, Glenn Kessler, who knows budget numbers can be “easily manipulated” and thinks that’s what is going on here.

Mr. Kessler dug into Mr. Nutting’s numbers and cited the data above along with another measurement of the fast-rising federal budget: how large a bite it takes out of the overall U.S. economy.

Using the White House’s own statistics measuring spending as a percentage of the U.S. economy’s gross domestic product (GDP), Mr. Kessler shows how that share has grown overall under Mr. Obama:

In 2008, 20.8 percent of GDP; 2009, 25.2 percent; 2010, 24.1 percent; 2011, 24.1 percent; 2012, 23.3 percent; and 2013, an estimated 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,” Mr. Kessler said.

As for Mr. Nutting’s column, Mr. Kessler said, “The data in the article are flawed, and the analysis lacks context” that can be found in available budget documents.

But what about the president’s bombastic statement that he has slowed the pace of spending?

Stanford business school economist Keith Hennessey tears that whopper apart on his website, which the Wall Street Journal said was one of the top 25 blogs on the Internet. Among his points:

“The president argues that his fiscal stimulus law, enacted in February 2009, had a big positive effect on the growth rate of the economy,” Mr. Hennessey points out. Thus, Mr. Obama maintains his policies didn’t significantly increase spending but did increase growth. But Keynesian fiscal stimulus theory is based on raising federal spending. Indeed, Mr. Obama spent nearly $1 trillion on his jobs stimulus, though he got little economic growth in return.

Mr. Hennessey found a number of flaws in Mr. Nutting’s figures along with statistical errors and “gimmicks,” such as assuming Mr. Obama had nothing to do with the budget when he took office in January until the new fiscal budget year began in October.

Thus, Mr. Nutting “skips all spending increases in the first eight months of the Obama administration, including the early implementation of the stimulus law.”

Mr. Hennessey’s conclusion: Mr. Obama’s fiscal policies “have maintained an extraordinarily high level of spending through his first term, and he proposes to continue to do so if he is elected to a second term.”

“If his latest budget were enacted in full and he were elected to a second term, the [spending] average over his tenure would be 23.4 percent of GDP,” he said.

Under President George W. Bush, federal spending averaged 19.6 percent of GDP before the economy fell into the recession in fiscal 2009. Even if you include fiscal ‘09, “Mr. Bush’s average is 20.1 percent.”

What Mr. Obama is presiding over is clearly “a spending binge,” Mr. Hennessey said.

Donald Lambro is a syndicated columnist and former chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.

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