Terry Jeffrey

How does Obama stack up against his modern-era predecessors as a spender of taxpayer money?

Whether you take his three-year average of spending 24.17 percent of GDP or his estimated four-year average of 23.95 percent, Obama beats all presidents from 1930 forward -- including Roosevelt.

FDR presided over the start of 12 fiscal years -- 1934 to 1945 (before 1977, federal fiscal years ran from July 1 to June 30). During those 12 years, which included much of the Great Depression and most World War II, the federal government spent an average of 19.35 percent of GDP per year.

It would have been far lower but for the war. In 1942, the first fiscal year of the war, it spiked to 24.3 percent. In 1943, it hit 43.6 percent of GDP. In 1944, it hit 43.6 percent again. In 1945, it hit 41.9 percent. In 1946, it was 24.8 percent. But in 1947, with the war over, it dropped all the way to 14.8 percent. And in 1948, it dropped again to 11.6 percent.

After World War II, average federal spending as a percentage of GDP went up with each successive president as the welfare state -- started under FDR -- matured and expanded, and the Cold War intensified.

President Truman spent an average of 16.89 percent of GDP; Dwight Eisenhower, 17.81 percent; John F. Kennedy, 18.63 percent; Lyndon B. Johnson, 18.86 percent; Richard Nixon, 19.52 percent; Gerald Ford, 21.05 percent; Jimmy Carter, 21.18 percent; and Ronald Reagan, 22.28 percent.

With the end of the Cold War, federal spending started to drop as a percentage of GDP. George H.W. Bush spent an average of 21.93 percent, and Bill Clinton, 19.41 percent.

It began climbing again with George W. Bush. Counting fiscal 2009, Bush spent an average of 20.51 percent of GDP.

Then we get to Obama's 24.17 percent.

Obama said: "Since I've been president, federal spending has risen at the lowest pace in nearly 60 years." But Obama's average of 24.17 percent of GDP is 17.84 percent higher than George W. Bush's average of 20.51 percent of GDP.

It is true that Obama has cut spending from the 25.2 percent of GDP in fiscal 2009 to the 24.3 percent of this year. Giving Bush all the credit for fiscal 2009, that means Obama has cut spending as a percentage of GDP since fiscal 2009 by about 3.6 percent.

Is even that the best in 60 years? In President Carter's last fiscal year, spending was 22.2 percent of GDP. By 1989, Reagan cut that to 21.2 percent -- a drop of 4.5 percent.

In George H.W. Bush's last fiscal year, spending was 21.4 percent of GDP. By 2001, Clinton cut that to 18.2 percent -- a drop of about 15 percent.

Even by this measure, Obama is no match for either Reagan -- or Clinton.


Terry Jeffrey

Terence P. Jeffrey is the editor-in-chief of CNSNews

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