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R.C. Speck

Confessions of a Recovering Critic

Obama vs Bush: Spending and the National Debt

2014 March 26

A Facebook friend of mine proposed that I read this Doug Short article and reassess my disapproval of President Obama’s being on track to doubling our national debt. I believe my friend’s argument was twofold: that Obama inherited Bush’s policies and that he had wars to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. So these are the reasons why Obama had no choice but to let the national debt skyrocket.


Here is why these arguments don’t hold up. Firstly, in 2009 federal spending rose by 17.9% from $2.98 trillion to $3.52 trillion. Ah, but this was Bush’s fault, wasn’t it? As my friend pointed out in a recent FB post, “Every debt increase is essentially time-shifted as each president inherits the policies of the previous administration”.

Well, not so fast.

As Peter Ferrara writes in Forbes:

But for fiscal year 2009, President Bush in February, 2008 proposed a budget with just a 3% spending increase over the prior year. Fiscal year 2009 ran from October 1, 2008 until September 30, 2009. President Obama’s term began on January 20, 2009.

Recall, however, that in 2008 Congress was controlled by Democrat majorities, with Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House, and the restless Senator Obama already running for President, just four years removed from his glorious career as a state Senator in the Illinois legislature. As Hans Bader reported on May 26 for the Washington Examiner, the budget approved and implemented by Pelosi, Obama and the rest of the Congressional Democrat majorities provided for a 17.9 percent increase in spending for fiscal 2009!

I know this might come to a surprise to some Obama supporters who believe that Obama has slowed the rate of federal spending. And it would be true if you exclude 2009 altogether. That’s what Rex Nutting argues. He pulls this sleight of hand by claiming that since 2009 was the last year of Bush’s presidency, you can’t blame Obama for that 17.9% increase. Really? According to Nutting, Obama has outspent the 2008 version of Bush by about a half trillion per year since he has been in office. Try to spin that one.

Second, there is the stimulus. $787 billion. And for what? Remember the famous graph that exposed Obama’s unemployment rate projections as completely wrong?


It predicted that by the summer of 2009, the stimulus would cause unemployment to decrease steadily from its peak at 8%. Further, without the stimulus Obama predicted that the unemployment rate would peak at 9% by the start of 2010 and then steadily decline. What the stimulus gave us instead was a unemployment peak at 10% in the fall of 2009 and a very rocky road after that in which it continues to be just below 8%. Obama’s projected goal for this was supposed to be 5%. You think that $787 billion was well spent? With all the waste, and fraud, and foolish speculative investments?

Finally, there is Obamacare. Clearly, we are going to be increasing federal spending for this. ask siri . Charles Blahous of George Mason University predicts that Obamacare will add as much as $530 billion to federal deficits while increasing spending by more than $1.15 trillion. And this expectation is repeated by the Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the CBO. Are they all wrong?

So, if Obama were concerned about reducing the national debt, he could have done so and kept up the good fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has outspent the 2008 George Bush by about 2.5 trillion in total. He blew close to a trillion with the stimulus. And plans on blowing a whole lot more with Obamacare. The money is there. It’s just that Obama would rather spend it on failed and foolish initiatives than getting us out of hock.

As a side note, I thought the Short article was sneaky in that it showed our real national debt on a logarithmic scale. That way the increase in debt from the 1980s seems nice and gradual, which it most certainly wasn’t. Follow the red arrows below to see what I mean.


Further, I don’t see anything in it that indicates that Obama’s “time-shift” away from the Bush administration should last 5 years. Obama has had 5 years to reduce debt and has done just the opposite. Remember also that we have not been in Iraq since 2011. That’s 2 years of savings that could have gone to the debt but didn’t. Finally, Short tries to make Reagan look bad showing a very marked increase in national-debt-as-percentage-of-GDP during Reagan’s tenure. Yeah, well, Reagan had something to show for that: low unemployment rates and the fall of the Soviet Union, one of the most murderous and oppressive regimes in history. What does Obama have to show for all his debt, except, of course, for more debt?

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