Obama’s Real Spending Record
Obama’s Real Spending Record: There’s no way around the facts. Under Presidents Bush and Obama, government exploded as a share of the economy
By Arthur B. Laffer and Stephen Moore @ WSJ (June 12, 2012)
President Obama shocked us the other day when he said, “Since I’ve been president, federal spending has risen at the lowest pace in nearly 60 years.” Having heard him champion the “multiplier effects” of deficit-financed stimulus spending, we saw him as an enthusiastic supporter of throwing other people’s money at just about any problem.
The numbers are mind boggling. From the second quarter of 2007, i.e., the first full quarter of a Pelosi-Reid dominated Congress and a politically weakened President Bush, to the second quarter of 2009 when President Obama assumed office, government spending skyrocketed to 27.3% of GDP from 21.4%. It was the largest peacetime expansion of government spending in U.S. history.
After taking office in 2009, with spending and debt already at record high levels and the deficit headed to $1 trillion, President Obama proceeded to pass his own $830 billion stimulus, auto bailouts, mortgage relief plans, the Dodd-Frank financial reforms and the $1.7 trillion ObamaCare entitlement (which isn’t even accounted for in the chart). While spending did come down in 2010, it wasn’t the result of spending cuts but rather because TARP loans began to be repaid, and that cash was counted against spending.
In 2011 and 2012, the pace of spending was slowed when a new emboldened breed of Republicans took back the House promising to end the binge. The House Budget Committee, headed by Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, has identified about $150 billion of new spending Mr. Obama wanted in 2011 and 2012 that Republicans would not approve. As the chart shows, government spending as a share of GDP fell, and taxes were not raised. But to attribute this drop in government spending to the president or congressional Democrats would be dishonest.
Slowing spending and the decision not to raise taxes may have prevented the Great Recession from becoming the next Great Depression. In 1930, the Smoot-Hawley tariff was signed into law by another weak Republican president, Herbert Hoover. Smoot-Hawley was the largest single tax increase on traded products in U.S. history. Not surprisingly, the markets collapsed.
Like President Obama, President Hoover proposed massive tax increases. Unlike Mr. Obama, Hoover was successful. The highest marginal income tax rate jumped to 63% from 24% on Jan. 1, 1932. That November, Hoover lost the election to Franklin D. Roosevelt in a landslide.
Today’s economy is again decelerating in no small part because on Jan. 1, 2013 we face Taxmageddon—the largest automatic tax increase on investment and businesses in generations, including the end of the Bush tax cuts and the more recent payroll tax cut. According to the Congressional Budget Office, this would drain $607 billion out of the economy next year, pushing us back into recession.
Maybe Keynes was wrong and Milton Friedman was right when he warned that government spending is taxation and that government can’t tax an economy into prosperity. Friedman made it clear time and again that restraining government spending stimulates the economy by liberating private resources.
The right point of focus is not at what pace spending has grown under President Obama but instead how much more he needs to cut spending from its bloated levels to bring the economy back to health. The huge increase in spending as a percentage of GDP under Presidents Bush and Obama is the reason we are experiencing the slowest recovery since the Great Depression. As Milton Friedman understood, an economy cannot spend or tax itself into prosperity.