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WaPo Fact Checker Debunks Obama White House’s Implausible Spending Claims

May 25th, 2012 by mopns · No Comments

This week, the White House has noticeably spent time this week pushing claims that the huge increases in federal spending President Obama has presided over are actually much smaller than those of other recent presidents, pointing to a commentary from Rex Nutting at MarketWatch. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney even told reporters that “this President has demonstrated significant fiscal restraint and acted with great fiscal responsibility.”

All this was too much for The Washington Post’s Fact Checker blog, which assigns the claims in the column (and the White House touting of it) “Three Pinocchios.”

The Fact Checker piece explains, “First of all, there are a few methodological problems with Nutting’s analysis — especially the beginning and the end point. Nutting basically takes much of 2009 out of Obama’s column, saying it was the ‘the last [year] of George W. Bush’s presidency.’ . . . The federal fiscal year starts on Oct. 1, so the 2009 fiscal year accounts for about four months of Bush’s presidency and eight of Obama’s. In theory, one could claim that the budget was already locked in when Obama took office, but that’s not really the case. Most of the appropriations bills had not been passed, and certainly the stimulus bill was only signed into law after Obama took office. . . . Nutting acknowledges that Obama is responsible for some 2009 spending but only assigns $140 billion for reasons he does not fully explain. On the other end of his calculations, Nutting says that Obama plans to spend $3.58 trillion in 2013, citing the Congressional Budget Office budget outlook. But this figure is CBO’s baseline budget, which assumes no laws are changed, so this figure gives Obama credit for automatic spending cuts that he wants to halt. The correct figure to use is the CBO’s analysis of the president’s 2013 budget, which clocks in at $3.72 trillion.”

Further, The Post analysis points out, “Obama’s numbers get even higher if you look at what he proposed to spend, using CBO’s estimates of his budgets . . . . So in every case, the president wanted to spend more money than he ended up getting. Nutting suggests that federal spending flattened under Obama, but another way to look at it is that it flattened at a much higher, post-emergency level — thanks in part to the efforts of lawmakers, not Obama.” It’s worth noting that during this time, Democrats controlled Congress entirely until 2011, and Democrats still control the Senate.

Importantly, the Fact Checker article shows how federal spending under Obama has been much larger as a percentage of the economy: “One common way to measure federal spending is to compare it to the size of the overall U.S. economy. That at least puts the level into context, helping account for population growth, inflation and other factors that affect spending. Here’s what the White House’s own budget documents show about spending as a percentage of the U.S. economy (gross domestic product):

2008: 20.8 percent

2009: 25.2 percent

2010: 24.1 percent

2011: 24.1 percent

2012: 24.3 percent

2013: 23.3 percent

“In the post-war era, federal spending as a percentage of the U.S. economy has hovered around 20 percent, give or take a couple of percentage points. Under Obama, it has hit highs not seen since the end of World War II — completely the opposite of the point asserted by Carney. Part of this, of course, is a consequence of the recession, but it is also the result of a sustained higher level of spending.”

The article concludes, “The data in the article are flawed, and the analysis lacks context — context that could easily could be found in the budget documents released by the White House. . . . The picture is not as rosy as [Carney] portrayed it when accurate numbers, taken in context, are used. Three Pinocchios.”

Related:

Rasmussen Reports: 57% Think U.S. is in A Recession

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