There's no way around the facts. Under Presidents Bush and Obama, government exploded as a share of the economy.
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.
Thus began our quest to see where we had strayed from the straight and narrow. Here's the picture.
In the chart nearby we've plotted federal government spending on a National Income and Product Accounts (NIPA) basis as a share of total U.S. GDP from 1990 to the present. The NIPA numbers are used here as opposed to appropriations or outlays to capture the actual periods when production occurs. The stories the chart tells are amazing.
The first is how much government spending fell during President Bill Clinton's eight years in office and how low it was when he left office. When he became president in 1992, government spending was 23.5% of GDP, and when he left in 2001 it was 19.5% of GDP. President Clinton, in conjunction with a solid Republican Congress, cut government spending by more than any other president in modern times, and oversaw one of the greatest periods of economic growth and prosperity in U.S. history.
Sadly for fiscal conservatives, the biggest surge in government spending came during the last two years of President George W. Bush's eight years in office (2007-2008). A weakened Republican president dealing with a strident Democratic Congress, led by then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, resulted in an orgy of spending.
Mr. Bush and Republicans in Congress capitulated to and even promoted each and every government bailout and populist redistribution canard put before them. It's a long list, starting with the 2003 trillion-dollar Medicare prescription drug benefit and culminating with the actions taken to stem the 2008 financial meltdown—the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program, the bailout of insurance giant AIG and government-sponsored lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the ill-advised 2008 $600-per-person tax rebate, the stimulus add-ons to 2007's housing and farm bills, etc. The script had it that greedy right-wingers were the cause of our collapse, and deficit spending and easy money the answer.
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.
And there is this...