Obama Takes Deficits To New Frontier – Pacific Research Institute

Obama Takes Deficits To New Frontier

In his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama said that “families across the country are tightening their belts and making tough decisions,” so the “federal government should do the same.”

The following week, the president presented his new budget, which contains $1.267 trillion in new deficit spending. So much for cinching up the belt.

Elsewhere in his address, the president said, “Let me start the discussion of government spending by setting the record straight.” But, in his subsequent words, he barely even mentioned his own deficit spending.

This, of course, will not do. If we are to set the record straight, we must take an honest look at President Obama’s fiscal record.

Let’s start with 2009. It is not fair to attribute the 2009 budget deficit solely to President Obama, as the Right would like to do — or solely to President George W. Bush, as the Left would like to do.

Bush signed into law that year’s congressional budget. Subsequently, Obama signed into law $675 billion in additional deficit spending passed by Congress: $410 billion through an omnibus spending bill and $265 billion for the portion of the economic-stimulus bill that was spent in fiscal 2009.

In Deeper

So, in a fair division of accountability, based on who signed for what, Obama is responsible for $675 billion of the $1.413 trillion in deficit spending for 2009. Bush is responsible for the remainder, or $738 billion.

Let’s put these somewhat intimidating numbers into historical perspective. (The source for all figures is Obama’s own White House Office of Management and Budget.)

Before Bush took office, there were only 15 years in which the U.S. federal budget deficit had reached $100 billion. Our deficit had never topped $300 billion — not once.

In the eight years that Bush signed the congressional budget into law, our deficits broke the $300 billion barrier five times. In two of those five years, they also broke $400 billion. And in one (2009), his share of the deficit topped $700 billion.

Bush thus became the first president to eclipse the $300-, $400-, $500-, $600- and $700-billion deficit-spending marks.

So, in the realm of deficit spending, President Bush seems to have left his successor quite a lot of room for improvement. How has President Obama done?

In his first two years of proposing the budget, President Obama has broken the $1.2 trillion barrier both times. In one of those years, he broke the $1.5 trillion barrier.

So, Obama has now become the first president to eclipse the $800 billion, $900 billion and $1-, $1.1-, $1.2-, $1.3-, $1.4- and $1.5-trillion deficit-spending marks. And that’s not counting his spending in 2009, which took place outside the normal budget cycle.

In all, if Congress approves his current budget, Obama’s deficit spending will total $3.5 trillion for the first half of his first term. President Bush’s deficit spending totaled $2.9 trillion. In other words, Obama’s deficit spending for his first two years in office will exceed Bush’s deficit spending for his entire eight-year presidency.

Obama likes to talk about how he inherited a bad economy and was put in a tough spot. But the Great Depression — now that was a tough spot. And yet, by any measure, Obama’s deficits dwarf those of the 1930s.

In fact, whether measured in constant dollars, real dollars or even as a percentage of the gross domestic product, Obama’s average deficit in his first two years will more than triple the average deficit during the Great Depression.

Never Before

Liberals like to point to deficit spending in the Reagan era. Of the eight congressional budgets that President Ronald Reagan signed, all of which were passed by a heavily Democratic House and nearly half by a Democratic Senate, the average deficit was $177 billion, or 4.1% of GDP. The average projected deficit for the two budgets that President Obama has proposed, also to a heavily Democratic Congress, is $1.412 trillion, or 9.3% of GDP.

Despite not having had to fund Cold War-level expenditures on defense (the defense budget was 64% higher under Reagan than under Obama, even as a percentage of GDP), Obama’s annual deficits are, by any measure, easily doubling Reagan’s — and that’s not even counting his 2009 deficit spending.

In truth, we’ve never amassed deficits remotely approaching those that President Obama and this Congress are amassing when we were not fighting in the World Wars or the Civil War. We’ve never run up deficits that were even close.

The historical record yields an inescapable conclusion: This White House and this Congress have been the most fiscally irresponsible in American history. And that’s setting the record straight.

• Anderson is a senior fellow at the Pacific Research Institute.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

Scroll to Top