If President Obama had his way in earlier budgets, the federal government would be 20 percent bigger than it is today — a measure of the expansive liberal direction he and his inner circle have tried to lead Congress over the past six years.
With Mr. Obama set to deliver his fiscal year 2016 budget Monday, political analysts say his past spending plans demonstrated a desire to increase the size of government and a supreme confidence that the American people would embrace his approach and accept unprecedented levels of spending for years to come.
“I think they believed there was enough disgust and animosity with the Bush administration and the Republicans that they were going to be secure for at least six years. I think they thought they were going to have 2009 up to 2014,” said Lara Brown, a political science professor at George Washington University. “They believed Obama would be re-elected, and I think they also believed that by the time the 2010 elections rolled around the stimulus would be kicking into optimal mode and we would be on the way out of the recession.”
Instead, the economy was still slumping and an ever-expanding sea of national debt — $10.6 trillion when Mr. Obama came to power and over $18 trillion today — became a political liability for Democrats. The Republican Party won control of the House in late 2010 and went on to force deep spending cuts that have stunted the president’s ambitions for expanding the federal government.
His early 2010 predictions that government would be spending $4.2 trillion by the last fiscal year turned out to be $700 billion too high.
In reality, the government spent $3.5 trillion in fiscal year 2014, a figure that has held relatively steady since Republicans claimed control of the House. The government spent slightly less in 2013, despite the administration’s projections of nearly $4 trillion that year.
SEE ALSO: Obama’s budget would raise taxes, eliminate spending caps
In addition to those raw figures, many of the president’s specific budget proposals, such as universal pre-K education, have not materialized.
As he releases his 2016 budget, the president finds himself in perhaps the most politically precarious position of his time in office, with Republicans in control of both the House and Senate.
To some degree, Mr. Obama is returning to his roots and pushing a plan to expand government, hike taxes and increase spending. His budget will include a spending increase of 7 percent, or $74 billion, over the current spending caps set by sequestration, which was the result of a vicious 2011 spending fight between the president and congressional Republicans.
The budget will call for about $530 billion in nondefense discretionary spending and about $561 billion in defense spending.
Mr. Obama has tried to make the case that, with decreasing deficits and positive economic trends, it is time to raise taxes on the rich and increase government spending in areas such as infrastructure, medical research, clean energy and free community college for all Americans.
“I promise you I’m not going out the next two years sitting on the sidelines. I am going to be making the case every single day and I hope you join me,” the president told House Democrats at a retreat in Philadelphia last week. “We need to stand up and go on offense and not be defensive about what we believe in. That’s why we are Democrats.”
SEE ALSO: Obama: ‘We can afford’ $74B spending increase; national debt at $18 trillion
Some specific budget proposals seem to have at least some level of bipartisan support. The president has, for example, put forth a proposal to spend $215 million on precision medicine. The idea of government investment into precision medicine has drawn praise from Republicans such as Sen. Lamar Alexander, Tennessee Republican and chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
But Republicans are bashing Mr. Obama’s broader budget. They say the White House is missing an opportunity to work with them on more targeted spending cuts and instead has pursued more liberal ideas.
“Republicans believe there are smarter ways to cut spending than the sequester and have passed legislation to replace it multiple times, only to see the president continue to demand tax hikes,” said Cory Fritz, spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican. “Until he gets serious about solving our long-term spending problem, it’s hard to take him seriously.”
The president has, however, energized progressives with his call for more spending and government investments in areas such as free community college. Some liberals argue that Mr. Obama has compromised with Republicans too much over the past four years and could have realized his vision if only he had pushed harder.
“Americans have been really impressed with the populist progressive agenda he set forward in the State of the Union. The failure to really achieve some of those popular progressive goals has been in part because he hasn’t been bold enough,” said Neil Sroka, spokesman for the liberal PAC Democracy for America. “Perhaps if the president had gone bolder, gone stronger earlier and put out similarly audacious plans we might be in a better place today in terms of income inequality, for example.”
• Ben Wolfgang can be reached at email@example.com.
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