You may have heard in recent days that the Obama spending spree is actually a myth, and that “the conservative Wall Street Journal” says so. That’s a lot of wrong to fit into one sentence, but it’s going around the left-wing world thanks to a Marketwatch column by one Rex Nutting, which was published in the WSJ earlier this week.
Locally, Nutting’s column was featured by Macomb Daily political reporter Chad Selweski, who swallows its assumptions hook, line and sinker in a Tuesday blog post he credulously titled, “Obama spending spree is a myth.”
Some people will believe anything, but I must say this surprises me a little coming from Selweski – a nice guy who showed me the journalism ropes many years ago when I interned at the Daily, and these days one of those “centrist” types who considers himself above all the icky partisanship and ideology out there.
You’d think a guy like Selweski, who has many years in the newspaper business, would not make the mistake of failing to distinguish between the conservative WSJ editorial page and the rest of its content, particularly the Marketwatch columns. (Indeed, one of the best rebuttals of Nutting’s piece came on Wednesday from WSJ editorial board member James Taranto.)
But let’s delve a little further into the substance itself, as well as the roots of Selweski’s credulity.
Nutting argues there has been no Obama spending spree because the rate of spending increase over the final year of Bush spending is less than 2 percent. In order to back this claim, Nutting attributes all 2009 spending to Bush – save for the curious number of $140 billion he carves out for the Obama stimulus – thus saddling Bush with responsibility for spending $3.52 trillion in 2009. Because Obama has spent around $3.7 trillion every year since, Nutting argues that he’s merely maintaining the status quo – and Selweski buys this.
But anyone with even a faint memory should know what a crock this is.
Let’s start by looking at the pattern of federal spending during the Bush presidency. The first budget proposed and signed by Bush was for fiscal year 2002, which totaled $2.0 billion in outlays. That figure steadily rose during the Bush years, such that the final budget proposed by Bush was for a whopping $3.1 trillion for FY 2009. The average of the eight budgets proposed by Bush was $2.55 trillion. The average of Obama’s four proposed budgets (none of which have been enacted – we’ll get to that – but all of which reflect what’s actually been spent) has been $3.7 trillion.
So how does Nutting come up with the nutty theory that there has been no Obama spending spree? Here’s how:
Everyone should remember that, in October 2008, Bush responded to the meltdown in the mortgage market by pushing through the Trouble Asset Relief Program (TARP), a one-time emergency measure that cost $750 billion and pushed that year’s deficit from an expected $450 billion to more than $1.2 trillion. There was disagreement about how to account for TARP in the budget because Treasury saw it as a straight expenditure, while the Congressional Budget Office argued it should be accounted for differently as much of it was expected to be paid back.
What was never expected, however, was that it would be added to the permanent budget baseline. When the following year’s budget was developed, it was supposed to view the baseline as the previous year’s spending minus TARP.
When Obama took office in January 2009, he inherited a Bush-passed FY 2009 budget of $3.1 trillion – not including TARP. To this, Obama added a “stimulus” of $775 billion, which he pushed through the now Democrat-controlled Congress. (It ultimately cost $862 billion.) This too was sold as a one-time measure. Had it been treated that way, it would have reset the baseline for FY 2010 back to around $3.1 trillion.
But that’s not what happened. In February 2009, Obama submitted a budget request of $3.552 trillion for FY 2010. Actually spending turned out to be $3.721 trillion. So even though the 2009 stimulus was supposed to be a one-time, emergency event (like TARP the previous year), total spending in the year that followed was roughly the same as it was in the year when the stimulus passed.
How did Obama and the Democrats get away with taking a supposed one-time expenditure and adding it to the permanent budget baseline? They did this by putting an end to federal budgets. Since 2009, Congress has not passed a federal budget, choosing instead to enact a series of continuing resolutions to authorize federal spending. That has eliminated the need to defend the passage of singular budget bills that document their spending profligacy.
To make a long story short, Obama took the one-time emergency measure that was the $750 billion TARP in 2008, added another such measure in the form of the $775 billion (actually $862 billion) stimulus in 2009, then quietly added these amounts to the budget baseline in spite of the fact that both were sold as one-time measures. Because the Democrats stopped passing budgets after 2009, this gambit largely escaped the attention of the public.
Nutting’s strangest claim is that only $140 billion in 2009 spending should be attributed to Obama for the stimulus, since the amount of the bill he signed was $775 billion. But that’s almost a mere footnote given the whole picture.
The overall numbers don’t lie. I supported TARP as a necessary emergency measure when it was proposed in 2008, but many feared that the huge one-time spending measure would not be one-time at all, and that’s exactly what happened.
Selweski hilariously defends Nutting’s piece by saying, “But the WSJ piece is not some left-wing ‘blame Bush’ rant. Nutting’s spending chart, published in a reputable conservative publication, relying upon official government statistics, will certainly send shivers up the spines of conservatives.”
A “blame Bush rant” is exactly what it is. It ignores the actual budget trends of the Bush years, ignores the unusual nature of the final Bush budget year, and attributes more than $600 billion in 2009 spending to Bush that was proposed and passed after he left office. Then it assumes that all spending in the years since has been a mere continuation of Bush policies.
I’m not surprised to see the likes of Rachel Maddow touting this as a vindication of Obama spending policies. Maddow is a left-wing propagandist, and stuff like this is created for people like her to take and run with. But what’s with Chad Selweski – Mr. Pox On All Their Partisan and Ideological Houses – failing to recognize the true nature of Nutting’s piece?
If Selweski made the mistake of ascribing some sort of ideological conservatism to Nutting’s piece because it came from a Wall Street Journal product, he should have known better. Marketwatch is an entirely separate product from the WSJ editorial page, and Nutting’s own column archive reveals that his views on spending are akin to those of far-left New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, believing as Krugman does that the federal government is holding back the economy by spending too little.
I guess even a centrist scold can be taken in by partisan propaganda, especially when he doesn’t remember pretty recent history, and doesn’t check out the historical numbers for himself. Oh yeah, the Obama spending spree is real. Be careful where you get your data, and you won’t have a hard time recognizing that.
(Dan Calabrese is editor-in-chief of the Michigan-based syndicate North Star Writers Group, and the author of the Royal Oak Series of spiritual thrillers, which are available at www.dancalabresebooks.com. Originally posted on The Michigan View.)