President Obama is a master of fiscal discipline, or so he says. "Our deficits are falling at the fastest rate in 60 years," he told an audience the other day at Knox College in Illinois. It is true that the federal deficit is on track to be the lowest since Mr. Obama took office, but there's a catch.
Figures released last week by the Congressional Budget Office show that, so far this year, the government has spent $753 billion more than it has taken in. It's on track to an $815 billion annual deficit at the end of the fiscal year. That's down almost a third from last year's $1.1 trillion deficit. Such a reduction sounds like he's making good on promises to rein in the endless spending blowout. Mr. Obama assured the nation that things would be different on his watch.
"We cannot and will not sustain deficits like these [i.e., like those of George W. Bush] without end," he said shortly after taking office, affecting the fierce demeanor of a small-town Republican banker. "We cannot simply spend as we please and defer the consequences to the next budget, the next administration or the next generation."
Nice work if you can get it, but you can't. Mr. Obama's deficits are setting records, but not in the way the White House wants people to think. Since 2009, his administration's cumulative deficits add up to $6.8 trillion, not merely triple George W. Bush's $2 trillion tab, but more than every single president from George Washington to President Bush. The present deficit is nearly double that of Mr. Bush's last and worst year in office, and a long way from the average $250 billion deficit Mr. Bush carried through his eight-year term.
No matter how the numbers are sliced, Mr. Obama is history's biggest spender. This year's deficit is more than the $742 billion in inflation-adjusted dollars that Franklin D. Roosevelt borrowed in 1943 to fight World War II. None of Mr. Obama's undertakings can be remotely compared to the costs of that war.
It's typical of the math that only works in Washington that Mr. Obama increases spending to an unprecedented level and claims credit when expenditures dip ever so slightly. His administration did everything it could to prevent such a dip. Had Mr. Obama's original budget been adopted we would be spending $300 billion more this year than we actually spent, raising the deficit to $1.1 trillion.
Credit for the deficit reduction, such as it is, goes to House Republicans, who have used continuing resolutions to keep government spending in a virtual freeze. That's a step in the right direction, but it's not good enough.
When Mr. Obama took office, the national debt stood at $10.6 trillion; it's now at $16.7 trillion. Instead of leaving our children "with a debt they cannot repay," Mr. Obama would leave our grandchildren and their children with a debt they can't escape.