Think Obama’s a huge spender? Then you need to see these two charts.

January 24, 2013

On Tuesday, Kevin Drum posted this chart showing the growth in total government spending -- that means federal, state and local -- adjusted by population ("per capita").

Kevin Drum, Mother Jones
Kevin Drum, Mother Jones

The takeaway, Drum says, is that "total government spending didn't go up much during the Clinton era, and it's actually declined during under President Obama. In the last two decades, it's only gone up significantly during the Bush era, the same era in which taxes were cut dramatically."

But some said Drum's chart was a trick, as it looked at total government spending rather than just federal spending. So on Wednesday, he posted a second chart. This one only included federal spending and it didn't adjust for population growth. The only thing is adjusts for is inflation. Here it is:

Kevin Drum, Mother Jones
Kevin Drum, Mother Jones

Of the two charts, the second is considerably more misleading. For one thing, part of the reason federal expenditures rose is that state and local expenditures fell so sharply. If you miss that information, you miss a lot of the story. For another, the sharp rise in federal spending begins in late-2009 and is largely over by 2010. It's ridiculous to attribute all that spending to Obama, who wasn't in office when it began, rather than to the recession, which is the clear and obvious cause.

But even accounting for that, Drum writes, "it's safe to say that even by 2016 the biggest increase in spending, by far, will have come during the Bush years." More detail on that spending here.

Now, a fair critique here would be that if Obama had his way, we would've spent even more, as we would've passed more stimulus, including the American Jobs Act. That's true. But if Obama had his way, we also would've done more deficit reduction, as his preferred tax increase was $1.6 trillion rather than $600 billion, and he's proposed hundreds of billions in spending cuts that Congress hasn't adopted.

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