Speaking at the American Society of News Editors conference in Washington on Tuesday, President Obama delivered a speech that was both short on facts and almost identical to speech Obama used to attack House Budget Chairman Ryan’s budget last year.
There were a few new lines, though. He called the recently passed House budget “thinly veiled social Darwinism” that is “antithetical to our entire history.” He added, “I am not exaggerating. These are facts.” But what are the real facts? And whose plan for America’s fiscal future matches our history and values?
According to the historical tables produced by the White House Office of Management and Budget, federal government spending after World War II has averaged 19.7 percent of GDP annually. And this is exactly what the average annual spending was for the years between President Clinton’s inauguration and the end of fiscal 2008.
In those 16 years, federal spending never rose above 21.4 percent nor fell below 18.2 percent. In fiscal 2009, Bush’s and Obama’s responses to the financial crisis drove federal spending to a post-war high of 25.2 percent. It has since declined slightly to 23.4 percent.
Those are the facts about our federal government’s spending history. Now let’s look at how the Obama and Ryan plans for the future match up. According to the Congressional Budget Office, under the Obama budget, federal spending falls to 22 percent in 2018, then rises again to 22.8 percent by 2022. Over the 10-year budget window, Obama spends an average of 22.6 percent of GDP, well above the historic average of 19.7 percent, and even above Clinton’s highest-spending year.
Contrast that with the Ryan budget, which drives spending down as far as 19.3 percent in 2018, before it rises to 19.8 percent in 2022. Over the 10-year budget window, Ryan’s budget spends an average 20 percent of GDP. So that’s what social Darwinism looks like — federal spending higher than Clinton and higher than the historical average.
If anybody’s budget is “antithetical to our entire history,” it is Obama’s. His budget creates a permanent spending plateau out of what should have been temporary, recession-driven increases. As the accompanying chart demonstrates, the Obama budget is the clear historical outlier.
In this context, Obama’s blithe use of terms like “social Darwinism” and “antithetical to history” suggests that he isn’t really serious. But what proves that he isn’t really serious is his mention in that speech of the so-called “Buffett Rule,” which effectively imposes a surtax on millionaires.
According to the Joint Committee on Taxation, Obama’s Buffett Rule would raise less than $5 billion in additional revenue each year. That’s enough money to run the federal government for just over 12 hours. So to see this political gimmick appear, again and again, as one of the few concrete ideas Obama presents to address the nation’s grave debt problem, is both revealing and disheartening.