Nor can he plausibly pass himself off as a champion of tight-fisted spending restraint while throwing down a challenge to skeptical Republicans in another crucial issue of the campaign. At a May 24 campaign rally in Des Moines, Iowa, the president declared that “federal spending since I took office has risen at the slowest pace of any president in almost 60 years.”
The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler fact-checked this claim and bestowed on the commander-in-chief the coveted “Three Pinocchios” designation.
Again, a quick check of numbers at the White House’s own website gives the lie to Obama claims of cutting deficits and bringing the budget under control: the last budget signed by George W. Bush and passed by the Democratic Congress (for fiscal year 2008) amounted to $2.77 trillion with a deficit of $459 billion. The next year’s budget (signed by Obama and again authorized by the Pelosi-Reid Congress) included a great deal of “emergency spending” for the Obama Stimulus Package and reached $3.52 trillion with a deficit of 1.4 trillion. In other words, deficit spending more than tripled in Obama’s first year as president, and it’s remained at comparably crippling levels ever since.
As Andrew Taylor fact-checks the White House claims for the Associated Press, the president “measures up” with a 9.7 percent spending increase in 2009 “much of which is attributable to Obama” and “a 7.8 percent increase in 2010, followed by slower spending growth over 2011-13. Much of the slower growth reflects the influence of Republicans retaking control of the House and their budget and debt deal last summer with Obama.”
This summary raises one more crucial point indisputably indicated by universally accepted statistics: the dramatic difference in fiscal performance between Congresses controlled by Republicans and those dominated by Democrats. In fact, partisan majorities in the House of Representatives (where the Constitution stipulates that spending bills must originate) seem to matter more to the scope of deficit spending than whether a donkey or an elephant occupies the Oval Office.
President Obama rightly chides his Republican presidential predecessors for disappointing records of fiscal management, but fails to note that for all 12 years of the Reagan and first Bush administrations, and for the last two difficult years of the second Bush administration, Democrats wielded big majorities in the House.
It’s no accident that Bill Clinton enjoyed a vastly better record of economic management in the six years (1996-2001) he hammered out budgets with a Republican House (and averaged a surplus of more than 1 percent of GDP) than the two years he collaborated with his fellow Democrats (and racked up deficits of 2.5 percent). By the same token, George W. Bush averaged deficits at a typical level of 2.5 percent of GDP during the six years he worked with Denny Hastert and fellow Republicans, but when Nancy Pelosi took over the House during his last two years, the numbers exploded to a disastrous rate of 6.7 percent.
In raw dollar terms, the last “all-Republican budget” of 2007 (devised entirely by a GOP president and approved by a Republican House) brought a modest deficit of $160.7 billion, while the first “all-Democratic budget” of the Obama era in 2010 (wholly attributable to President Obama, and passed by the Pelosi House) amounted to deficit spending of $1.293 trillion—or eight times more than the bad old days of Bush.
The bottom line of any honest, uninflected examination of readily available budgetary and employment numbers provides both bad news and good news for President Obama’s reelection efforts.
The bad news: while he hardly qualifies as the devastating, prosperity-wrecking destroyer depicted in conservative propaganda, he certainly can’t claim a good record as a job creator with fewer people working today than when he took office, and vastly more having left the labor force altogether.
But the good news for Obama from the raw numbers also suggests that the wild spending growth that Romney and company regularly (and rightly) decry has already begun to subside under the influence of the Republican House. Based on historical patterns, the deficit might well continue to decline in a second Obama term—as long as the GOP maintains control of Congress and exercises stern supervision of the administration’s credit card.