The stunning chart that shows the Obama spending binge really happened

UPDATE: I am not sure this chart accurately reflects the methodology of the MarketWatch piece, in particular the treatment of the 2009 Omnibus spending bill. In fact, it’s probably wrong. I apologize for that. But that does not change my fundamental point of disagreement which I outline here and here.

In a column on Tuesday, Rex Nutting of MarketWatch ran some budget numbers and concluded the following:

Almost everyone believes that Obama has presided over a massive increase in federal spending, an “inferno” of spending that threatens our jobs, our businesses and our children’s future. Even Democrats seem to think it’s true. But it didn’t happen. Although there was a big stimulus bill under Obama, federal spending is rising at the slowest pace since Dwight Eisenhower brought the Korean War to an end in the 1950s.

And here is Nutting’s graph:

The shocking, contrarian piece was widely circulated in liberal circles and was even cited on Wednesday by White House spokesman Jay Carney.

But there were a few problems with Nutting’s numbers. Nutting’s methodology assumes spending in the first year of a presidential term should be credited to the previous president. OK, fine. But he attributed a $410 billion spending bill in March of 2009 to George W. Bush even though it was signed by Barack Obama. Nutting also didn’t use inflation adjusted numbers.

But I did both of those and got wildly different results from Nutting, as seen in the chart at the top of this post. (Note: I looked at absolute spending as opposed to the rate of increase.)

My numbers show that spending under the ’10-’13 Obama budgets far outstrips spending by a generation of presidential predecessors. This should not be surprising since spending as a share of GDP under Obama is the highest in U.S. history outside of World War II.

We can disagree about whether all of Obama’s massive spending is a good idea or not. But we can’t factually argue about whether it happened or not. It did.

The Obama spending binge really did happen.

63 thoughts on “The stunning chart that shows the Obama spending binge really happened

  1. James Pethokoukis, how can you be so blatantly disingenuous? You missed one simple fact. 90% of the spending under Obama is because of Mr G W Bush’s policies. 2 Wars, Massive tax cuts, NCLB, Medicare Part D and add to that ZERO revenue increases. And now you can all blame it on Mr Obama. Bravo. How do you sleep at night?

    • Zachary,

      Tax cuts aren’t spending in the way the above chart is describing spending. You can argue that the Bush tax cuts have had an impact on the deficit, but it’s a stretch to say it has an impact on spending. Also, using your logic, should we ‘blame’ Roosevelt or LBJ for the growth in spending in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security? Spending on these programs has been way more than first estimated. And at least with Medicare Part D, spending has come in under initial budget projections. The two wars are fair game. Those are Bush’s wars and shouldn’t be fully attributable to Obama. But surely you agree that the spending bill passed in March of 2009, when Bush was out of office, shouldn’t be credited to him?

    • Zachary,
      1. You would be correct if the policies were created by Bush but were not implemented until Obama took office. In that case, all of the cost of those policies would be borne by Obama. But that’s not what happened. Since all those policies were implemented under Bush, the actual cost is reflected in the chart under Bush II 02-05 and Bush II 06-09. That’s why Bush’s spending increases were 16.1% and 11.9%! By the time Obama came to office, those costs were already reflected in the budget under Bush. Obama, on the other hand, has done the opposite with Obama Care–the costs will be borne under the next administration whether Obama or Romney. Quite the hat trick and a sneaky way to make his spending increase look less than it actually is! So James is not being disingenuous. He is talking about the percentage the spending increased over the previous president.
      2. Again, the cost of the war in Iraq was already included in the budget. In addition, it had already been won and was winding down. Bush had even negotiated a withdrawal before leaving office and the cost had dropped significantly by the time Obama took office. So that should have resulted in spending going down under Obama!
      3. Tax cuts don’t cause the government to spend more money. They may increase the deficit for a short period of time if the government fails to make adjustments in their budget. That would be a budget shortfall and would be shown in a chart labeled “Revenue”. It that has nothing to do with increasing spending over the previous president and is not relevant to the chart James has prepared.
      4. Same with NCLB. Costs are already reflected under Bush’s numbers on the chart. It is up to Obama whether he spends more money on it or not.
      5. Medicare Part D has come in way under budget and everyone has been amazed! Why? Because it uses competition and the free market to hold down costs. That’s the way it was designed. So will you give Bush credit for that? And again, it was implemented under Bush so the costs were already included before Obama took office. So again that should have resulted in spending going down under Obama!
      Conclusion: Obama chose to spend more money than was spent when Bush was president That’s what the chart shows. It really is that simple. And if Obamacare was included in the chart it would be worse!

      • Such B.S, I don’t have time to address it all. But for EXAMPLE you say:
        “Medicare Part D has come in way under budget and everyone has been amazed! Why? Because it uses competition and the free market to hold down costs”
        FALSE!! this quote is from WIKI:
        “By the design of the program, the federal government is not permitted to negotiate prices of drugs with the drug companies, as federal agencies do in other programs. The Department of Veterans Affairs, which is allowed to negotiate drug prices and establish a formulary, has been estimated to pay between 40%[26] and 58%[27] less for drugs, on average, than Medicare Part D. For example, the VA pays as little as $782.44 for a year’s supply of Lipitor (atorvastatin) 20 mg, while the Medicare pays between $1120 and $1340 on Part D plans.”
        That is the difference between Repugs and Dems. Repugs spend irresponsibly, ignoring the free market principals they so admiringly subscribe to, unless they are spending tax dollars, which they give away freely! Dick Cheny had to be the breaking vote in the senate after much shenanigans by Rebublicans to get this passed without paying for it. Dems made a valiant effoert to see this was paid for rather to adding to the deficit, Dick Cheny said “Deficits don’t matter!”

    • Zachary: Are you on peyote? obama requested Bush release billions in TARP funds that he did not spend and did not beleive were necessary. Then, obama SPENT IT? After this, it was a short hop to his almost TRILLION dollar “stimulus” that was not even well disguised payment to unions for votes that their leaders herded to the polls. Then obama amped up the war in Afganistan (you remember, the war that obama said was THE RIGHT WAR). After all this, your hero tried for another “stimulus” and managed to raise 3 or 4 hundred billion more (you know, there was another election coming up and more votes must be purchased). By the way, I would sleep one hell of a lot better if this pantload in the White House were out of the White House.

  2. While I can find plenty to blame Obama for, the 2009 fiscal year was the last year for the GWB presidency and was not a product of the Obama Administration. Spending went up almost 18% that year to a tune of about $3.5 trillion, or so says the Office of Management and Budget.

    The fiscal 2010 year belonged to Obama and spending fell 1.8. It rose 4.3% in 2011 and is expected to hit .7% in 2012. In 2013, or so says the CBO, it is expected to fall 1.3%.
    It isn’t that Obama is a big spender but rather that he walked into a huge tax revenue drought, the lowest GDP in over 65 years, and an out of control recession.

    • Not quite correct. The 2009 budget was not approved until I believe March 2009. The budget approved by the Congress as controlled by Democrats was significantly higher than the budget requested by Bush and included a whole lot more things like the stimulus which cost nearly $1 trillion dollars. a stimulus that didn’t work by the way. So you can’t blame bush for spending that occurred under Obama and the Democrats after he left office. That’s simply absurd.

      • What you’re missing Andrew, is that the 2009 fiscal year began October 1, 2008. The budget for the entire fiscal year was largely set in place while Bush was in office. Obama had to contend with the fact that that Bush had spent like a drunken sailor and promply handed him the bill.
        As far as your matter-of-factly statement that the stimulus didn’t work, I have to question where or how you get your news.

        • The Democrats controlled Congress beginning in 2006. They didn’t approve the budget for FY 2008 until March 2009–after Obama became President. Check it out here:;_ylt=A2KJ3CbkUcBPaDsADQ7QtDMD Obama and the Dems own it.

          As to the $787 billion stimulus package, let’s use Obama’s own promises to gauge the effectiveness of the stimulus. The New York Times reported on Oct. 22, 2009, “The Obama administration’s forecast at the start of the year, which predicted that unemployment would not climb much above 8 percent.” The U2 unemployment rate was 7.6% when Obama took office. It has not been below 8% since. I believe this is the longest period with unemployment above 8% since the depression. Obama also promised the unemployment rate would not rise above 8.5 percent with the stimulus. Unemployment peaked at 10.2 percent in October 2009. By the end of 2010, he promised, unemployment would have dropped to 7.25 percent. As of today I believe it is 8.1%. Furthermore, Obama claimed that without the stimulus the unemployment rate would increase from 7 percent to 8.8 percent. Doesn’t sound like the stimulus worked to me….

          To make matters worse, the total unemployed, which includes discouraged workers and the marginally attached, plus part-time workers who say they would like to be working more, but for economic reasons could only find part-time work, was 15.1% in January 2012. Still doesn’t sound like the stimulus worked to me….

  3. I’m confused. In this post, you show Obama’s spending increasing by 25% in 2010 to 2013. However in the earlier post you link to:

    You credit 2009 spending to Bush at 3.033 trillion, and 2013 spending to Obama at 3.157 trillion. That equates to a 1% per year in spending increases – about 4.1% total increase. I’m sure you’re right, I just don’t see it from your data.

    Also, from that same earlier data, spending growth in Bushes second term increased 5.7% per year, and projected at 2.6% per year increase in a second Obama term.

  4. Obama 2012, it’s a done deal.

    Then we amend the Constitution, just for you racist corporate owned Tea Party vermin, you treacherous traitorous weasels working to undermine the Republic. All those paying their lackey shills in Congress to dismantle democracy and turn America into a corporate run plutocratic empire. You’re going to lose, its inevitable. Just keep pushing WE THE PEOPLE, trying to turn us all into slaves in OUR own land, and you’ll wind up losing far more than you ever would’ve imagined.

    To all of you I say;

    Obama 2016

    Obama 2020

    Obama 2024

    Obama 2028


    By the time we’re done with Y’all, you’ll go from the useless nonproductive money hoarding leaches living in the lap of luxury of all our backs, to living in refrigerator boxes by the side of the road somewhere in China, stripped of your US citizenship, property & assets, after you’ve been run out of OUR country on a rail.

    We know who you are, there’s a hole in your soul, a hole that no amount of money, power, possessions or self deluded illusions of control, can ever hope to fill. You’re dead inside, and the only thing that gives you a moments relief from the never-ending agony and endless pain of your pathetic empty excuses for lives, is to spread your affliction and suffering to the rest of us.

    Take a look in the mirror, YOU are sociopaths and psychopaths the megalomaniacs and the narcissistic personality disorders, the pestilent rot in the sphincter of the nation, the ass cancer of the American dream, the perverted and corrupted malignancy eating away at the heart of OUR country. There is only one solution for the problem you represent, one cure for the infectious affliction you spread, y’all must be excised, expunged, cut out… so that the rest of us may live.

    So I urge you all to immediately self-deport… NOW, preferably to another planet, in another solar system.

    PS Don’t let the door hit ya’ in the ass on the way out. :)

    • “To all of you I say;….”

      To you we all say, “Pbbbbbbtttttt!!!”

      Get someone to tell you about the part in the Constitution (or maybe even tell you about the Constitution) where it spells out how many terms a man may serve as President.

    • Just how clueless are you? I’m glad you think you have a cause to fight for because it shows your complete lack of understanding as portrayed in your great prejudiced passion to get rid of those who have nice things (and have worked for them). Amend the constitution you say? Sounds more like you want to throw it out. And then one day you are going to wonder what happened when you’re trapped inside the prison and desolation of the socialist system you have fought to create. How poetic indeed.

      By the way, I’m middle class, not rich, and I know well what I’m talking about. Even though there are people who make literally 100 times what I do – this is still the best economic system. How do I explain all the corruption and the economy? How about you first explain the more than 100 million deaths in the 20th century attributed to Socialism. Then we’ll have something to talk about indeed.

    • Yeah – the Tea Party is “Corporate Owned”, but George Soros is just a nickel-and-dime entrepeneur, and the (D)s have never taken donations from the exact same businesses they publicly vilify, right?

      And the noble (D)’s are fighting the good fight for the common man and woman and talk about “the rich (a conveniently constantly changing number) paying their fair share”, but they continue to leave loopholes for millionaires like themselves while taxing and regulating small businesses out of existence.

      As for the rest of your spiel about “excising” etc…. sounds a lot like Billy “guilty rich white boy” Ayers and the Weather Underground’s plans for “re-educating” 25 million or so of their countrymen into mass graves for the “betterment of society”. Interesting how the left is so eager to call the right violent, but more people have died under leftist hands throughout history.

    • GOTTA be a Republican troll…

      Even the most bassackwards, ultralib, demmie wouldn’t be this blatantly stupid.

      Nice piece of trollery, though. Now, back under your bridge!

    • The biggest problem I have with these kinds of rants is that they do not convey a vision. To spew rhetoric as to how those who believe the Gov could accomplish what States direct the Fed Gov can do better and spend less money is disengenuous at best.

  5. The Bush budget for fiscal year 2009 NEVER passed. Instead, the dems, who controlled both the House and Senate, pass a continuing resolution to fund the government until March 6 of 2009. They wanted to wait for Obama to be sworn in, then they planned to put together a budget together. Lol, still waiting…. and the budget cannot be filibustered, so no excuse there… Anyways, even if you attriibute 100% of the continuing resolution spending to Bush, you still have every penny spent after 3/6/09 as Obama’s spending. And then Senator Obama asked Bush to release the second half of the TARP money so that he could spend it.,_Disaster_Assistance,_and_Continuing_Appropriations_Act_of_2008

  6. In US history -
    Bush has 7 of the 9 biggest increases in spending
    Bush has the top 4 revenue DECREASES
    Bush has the top 4 deficit increases

    Bush increased the national debt by 105% while Obama has increased it by 34%. Bush inherited a surplus and turned it into a $1,413 billion deficit. Bush increased spending by 89%, Obama has increased it by 8%. Bush increased revenue by 5.7% in 8 years, Obama has increased revenue by 17.3% in 3 years.

    Trickle-down economics doesn’t work. History will not remember the republicans kindly for borrowing massive amounts of money so the rich could enjoy tax cuts during war time.

    • Evidently, neither does a rudimentary public education. Blame whomever you wish, there is no such thing as “trickle-down” economics. There is Supply Side and Keynesian methodologies. The former relies on capitalism, entrepreneurial activity, investment, free markets and self reliance and the latter depends on government intervention, the nanny state and sharing the wealth which is deeply flawed, illogical and get this straight, like outright Socialism, HAS ALWAYS FAILED.

    • While I certainly won’t defend bush’s fiscal responsibility, the talking points used by democrats that you mentioned above is completely false. Bush certainly didn’t inherit a surplus. Look at the CBO data. Surplus in 2000 was 236 billion dollars, but when recession kicked in the surplus was cut in half and raplidly declined to 128 billion dollars before bush was even inaugurated in 2001. Before any bush tax cuts were passed in 2002, he had a deficit of 128 billion dollars. How can 230 billion dollar surplus go to 128 billion dollars of deficit in 2 years and how can you blame Bush for it? Well we had one of the biggest economic boom secondary to the dot com bubble from 1995-2000 plus the tax increases in 1990 under bush sr and 1993 under clinton helped reduce 290 billion to a surplus. But you cannot just account the only accomplishment dems point to for the deficit reduction to the tax increase since we had a deficit in 2002 under clinton tax rates even with the big economic boom in the 1990s.

      The key reason for the wild swing is the market changes irrelevant to the policies made by congress and president. Okay so Bush did inherit a recession (worsened by 9/11) and a deficit by 2002. What has he and the republican congress done to reduce it. Many democrats falsely say the 2002 tax cuts and iraq war contributed to the worsening of the deficit. To the contrary there was another economic boom after 2004, that led to cutting the deficit in half as %gdp, and deficit went as low as 162 billion dollars in 2007, around the same amount bush inherited in 2002. But what happened in 2008 that led to trillion dollar deficits?

      Well the 2008 financial caused one of the biggest recession in our generation which led to massive spending to stimulate the economy supported by both democrats and republicans which led to the massive spending. The financial crisis had nothing to do with trickle down economics but more to do with the deregulation that took place since greenspan took over in 1984. To be fair if those deregulations didn’t happened we wouldn’t have had the big economic booms in the 1990s that was not happening in Asia, due to lack of deregulation. I think we need to realize that while keeping interest rates low and less government restrictions can help government grow it can also lead to heavy recessions and the role of federal reserve needs to modified in order to prevent another crisis like this.

      In order to talk about spending, both parties have always advocated for a larger role government plays in terms of spending and the only moments we have had decreased spending is when we had a divided congress in mid 1990s. Decreased spending during that time actually slowed growth and led to the recession in 2000 further supporting keynesian economic policies followed by the US government since FDR.

  7. Your Chart doesn’t jive with the fact that the total government spending from 2010 to now has only risen 200 billion dollars, even if you start at 2009 when Obama was inagurated, its 600 billion difference thats still less than most presidents going back decades and not even adjusted for inflation.

    Not sure how you’re scewing the chart but its not jiving with reality. The “liberal” one might be off, but even at 5% Obama is FAR rom a “sepnding binge” and doing very well considering the economy he inherited.

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