We do not have a spending problem


Posted by AzBlueMeanie:

Tea-Publicans have a one note agenda: cut spending. They bang that one note on the keyboard like a chicken pecking at a piano. Every speech, every press release, every op-ed, and every interview
features identical talking points about the "explosion of out-of-control
government spending" during the Obama era.

There's GOPropaganda, and then there is reality. The spending surge that didn't happen:

Matt Yglesias flagged
this chart showing the trajectory of total government spending at the
federal level, and I added a nice, big arrow to point to the Obama-era
spending (the gray areas reflect recessions). Matt explained, "[T]aken
as a whole, consolidated government spending — federal, state, and
local — simply hasn't surged. You can take the beginning of the
recession or the beginning of the Obama administration or whatever you
like as your starting point and it still hasn't happened."


That is not, incidentally, good news. After the Great Recession, the
nation needed significant public investment to create jobs and boost
economic growth. With interest rates at ridiculously low levels, the
responsible thing to do was borrow like crazy and spend a lot more
. Additional investments would mean lower unemployment and a faster, more robust recovery.

policy prescriptions and Keynesian economics notwithstanding, the facts
are the facts: every time Republicans whine incessantly about President
Obama spending like there's no tomorrow, they're simply wrong.

What's more, Bloomberg News published a fascinating item
today providing some useful historical context: "Federal outlays over
the past three years grew at their slowest pace since 1953-56, when
Dwight D. Eisenhower was president."

Steve Benen follows up today in The imaginary spending surge, redux:

We talked yesterday about how demonstrably wrong Republicans are when they accuse President Obama of dramatically increasing government spending. The chart showing government expenditures over the last half-century tell an important tale.

Kevin Drum did a nice job taking this one step further, publishing a chart that breaks this down by president over the last 20 years.


Those who continue to believe Republicans support fiscal restraint
while Obama supports out-of-control government spending just aren't
paying close enough attention. As Kevin added, "What we have isn't a
spending problem. That's under control. What we have is a problem with
Republicans not wanting to pay the bills they themselves were largely
responsible for running up."

Paul Krugman had some related thoughts The Non-Surge in Government Spending
on this yesterday — including some additional charts — noting that
spending levels sometimes appear exaggerated when GDP growth slows and
mandatory spending programs grow:

The fiscal debate in Washington is dominated by things everyone knows
that happen not to be true
. One of those things is the notion that we
have a fiscal crisis, an assertion belied both by the low interest rates
at which the Feds can borrow and by the fact that medium-term deficit
projections really aren’t that alarming. Another is the notion that our
current deficit is driven by a surge in government spending.

* * *

First, if the economy is depressed — if GDP is low relative to
potential — the share of spending in GDP will correspondingly look high
Suppose that you have commitments to defense, to Social Security, to
Medicare that are growing at rates consistent with the long-run growth
in the economy; if the economy plunges and then takes a long time to get
back to trend, those spending programs will temporarily account for a
larger share of GDP, even if there hasn’t been any acceleration in their

Second, there are some programs — unemployment benefits,
food stamps, to some extent Medicaid — that tend to spend more when the
economy is depressed and more people are in distress
. And rightly so!
You don’t want to take a temporary spike in UI payments after a deep
slump as a sign of runaway spending.

So how can we get a better
picture? First, express spending as a share of potential rather than
actual GDP
; we can use the CBO estimates of potential for that purpose.
Second, keep your eye on the business cycle — and, in particular, on how
spending is evolving now that a gradual recovery is underway.

So, let’s look first at a longish time series of total government spending as a share of potential GDP:


What you see is not a sustained upward trend: there’s actually a considerable fall during the Clinton years, reflecting in part falling defense spending, then a more modest rise in the Bush years, mainly reflecting spending on the War on Terror (TM), and finally a temporary surge associated with the financial crisis — but much of that surge has already been reversed.

Here’s a closeup on Bush’s last two years and Obama’s first four:


That was the spending surge that was.

Now, there’s still stuff out there that will, under current law, lead to
rising spending: mainly an aging population plus rising health care
costs. And some of that is already affecting spending trends. But the
idea that we’ve had some kind of spending surge, and that current
deficits reflect that surge, is just wrong, and distorts public

When is the last time a media villager ever stopped a Tea-Publican from spewing their bogus talking points and confront them with "Excuse me, but that is simply not supported by the facts," then question them on the facts that "President Barack Obama has signed into law approximately $2.4 trillion
of deficit reduction for the years 2013 through 2022. Nearly
three-quarters of that deficit reduction is in the form of spending
cuts, while the remaining one-quarter comes from revenue increases." The Deficit Reduction We Have Achieved So Far | Center for American Progress.

Do you media villagers think you can do that? Is that too much to expect?

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AZ BlueMeanie
The Blue Meanie is an Arizona citizen who wishes, for professional reasons, to remain anonymous when blogging about politics. Armed with a deep knowledge of the law, politics and public policy, as well as pen filled with all the colors stolen from Pepperland, the Blue Meanie’s mission is to pursue and prosecute the hypocrites, liars, and fools of politics and the media – which, in practical terms, is nearly all of them. Don’t even try to unmask him or he’ll seal you in a music-proof bubble and rendition you to Pepperland for a good face-stomping. Read blog posts by the infamous and prolific AZ Blue Meanie here.


  1. Only if you don’t engage in some very basic analysis. The issue isn’t the growth of spending, it’s the growth of spending relative to GDP. Beteween 1974 and today, there’s been a ten-fold increase in both nominal spanding and nominal GDP. So, the ratio is staying in the same ballpark. Furthermore, inflation accounts for a nearly four-fold increase in both spending and GDP, and population growth accounts for a nearly 50% increase in both spending and GDP over that same time period. So, even if we had kept real per capita spending and real per capita GDP constant over that period, the nominal numbers both would have increased six-fold. The fact that they both increased ten-fold is a good thing. It means on a per capita basis our economy has grown over that period.