Kevin Drum, looking at this chart...
Republicans like to say we have a spending problem, not a taxing problem, but the evidence doesn't back that up. Total government spending didn't go up much during the Clinton era, and it's actually declined during the Obama era. In the last two decades, it's only gone up significantly during the Bush era, the same era in which taxes were cut dramatically.
I have several comments about this craziness, but I need to preface it with an observation, an observation that I presume my readers have already figured out, unlike the willfully blind of the reality-based community. This is the total of all government spending at all levels, not just Federal. In fact, had he shown Federal spending (likely more appropriate given he is trying to draw conclusions about Presidents), the numbers would have continued up over the last few years. Only a substantial decline in state and local spending has offset the increase in Federal per capital spending. Which leads us to a few conclusions, starting with the most obvious:
- Under our Constitution, last I checked, the President had exactly zero to do with local spending. Obama actually was a sort of exception to this, attempting to prop up local spending, or at least to prop up union civil service payrolls, in the 2009 stimulus. However, this is well behind us and all this did was put off the financial reckoning in state and local governments.
- It is odd that Drum should claim this proves that all is well, since if it is so, it is due to a lot of governments, many of them majority Republican, following exactly the opposite strategy than the one he advocates. In other words, they showed fiscal restraint, which somehow allows Drum to argue that Obama should therefore show lack of restraint. I am not sure how improving state and local financial position by doing the opposite of what Drum advocates is a logical justification for the Feds doing what Drum advocates.
- This shift in the spending mix from state and local to Federal is actually a fiscal disaster in waiting. Local spending has far more accountability, where spending stays close to voters so that those who pay taxes can assess the spending's merits and effectiveness. Further, most state and local governments must operate with a balanced budget and are banned from deficit spending. The Feds have no such restraints.
- The fact that many state and local governments live within their means does not somehow make the federal government's debauchery justified. Seriously, this is like saying that Greece does not have a spending problem because overall EU spending has declined.
- Even state and local spending is declining only because the government is on cash rather than accrual accounting. If states do not fund their pension obligations in a year, realistically they are still incurring the liability, but cash accounting would show that spending is declining. In this sense, cash spending is a poor gauge of the real health of state and local governments.
- Everyone always shows these spending charts by red / blue President. It would be interesting instead to see them by red / blue Congress.
Update: Drum responds to others making similar arguments here. He modifies the chart to include just federal per capital spending, and unsurprisingly, it is up steeply in the first year of Obama's Presidency but flatish (not down) after that. Drum draws the conclusion that Obama's spending is OK because Bush's was worse. Huh? This is the bizarre tu quoque team politics game that drives me insane. Bush sucked on spending. Bush with a Democratic Congress in his last years sucked worse. Obama has sucked. None of this somehow proves spending is not a problem.
His chart says this: Real (meaning adjusted for inflation) per capita (meaning adjusted for population growth) Federal spending is up something like 47% in the last 10 years. Anyone feel like they are getting 47% more value?