The Audacity of Obama's Austerity Claim

The Audacity of Obama's Austerity Claim
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Big Government: President Obama says his new budget will finally end the dreary "era of austerity." If Obama thinks record-high spending, massive deficits and a doubling of the debt are austere, what does he consider indulgent?

Let's take a look at some of the overall budget numbers. It's true that federal spending declined in the past two years, but that's only because it reached fantastic heights in Obama's first two years, thanks to the massive stimulus program.

But even with these modest declines, the federal government will still spend $561 billion more this year than it did in 2008. That's a 19% increase at a time when inflation rose just 9%.

As a share of GDP, spending this year will be 20.5%, which is hardly austere either, given that the average under Presidents Clinton and Bush was 19%.

Plus, Obama has set the country on a permanently higher spending path. Federal outlays are on track to reach 22.4% of GDP by 2024, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

It's also true that deficits dropped in the past two years, and they're expected to fall again this year and next. But that's due as much to revenues bouncing back from recessionary lows as it is to spending restraint imposed by the GOP.

Even with the drop, red ink as a share of GDP will remain above average, and will start spiraling upward after 2015. By 2022, the deficit will top $1 trillion again, and will go up from there, as will the national debt.

(There hasn't been any real austerity at the state level, either. Total state outlays in 2013 were 16% higher than in 2008, according to the National Association of State Budget Officers.)

Nor have the areas Obama singles out for big spending hikes starved for funds. Just the opposite.

For example, he wants more money for early childhood education programs. But Head Start's budget has shot up 25% since Obama took office, to $8.6 billion. (His stimulus pumped another $2 billion into the program in 2009.)

All this despite the fact that studies consistently find no meaningful impact on the educational achievement of children who go through Head Start.

Another favorite spending category for Obama is college tuition aid. Maybe Obama's not aware, but federal aid already climbed 32% on his watch, according to the College Board.

Obama will also call for more federal job training money. What he won't say is that spending on these programs more than tripled between 2003 and 2009.

And the Government Accountability Office found that the $18 billion is spread across 47 programs, most of which overlap, and that there's little accountability in any of them.

Obama also wants more money for transportation, as though this has been starved for funds. Budget data show that federal transportation outlays this year will be 30% higher than they were in 2008.

Too bad family budgets haven't been as "austere" as the government's since Obama took office.


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