The Obama administration undoubtedly wants the budget message to be all the good
things it wants to do for the American people, except those who make the mistake of
earning too much money.
There's a second stimulus, rechristened a jobs program. Health care reform,
repositioned as an attack on the insurance industry's dirty deeds. New middle-class
tax breaks. More spending on education. Lots more spending on infrastructure and
The budget is intended to position the Democratic Party as the friend of the
middle-class. But the message is blotted out by all the red ink.
Obama likes to depict himself as a deficit victim. He inherited a huge deficit and a
deep recession. Not his fault.
Certainly the Republicans during the Bush years were fiscally irresponsible. But
within historical bounds. The deficits in Obama's budget are beyond historical
bounds and are his alone.
Even with Bush's tax cuts, federal revenues in 2007 were at the average as a
percentage of GDP, 18.5 percent, going back to 1960. The deficit was just 1.2
percent of GDP, historically on the low side. Accumulated federal debt was 36
percent of GDP.
Then the recession hit. From 2008 to 2009, federal spending increased 18 percent.
This was a budget year that straddled the Bush and Obama presidencies. But the
spending increase was driven by anti-recession measures, predominately the Bush
stimulus and bailouts.
Obama supported these measures. In fact, his complaint about the Bush stimulus was
that it was too small.
This raises a question of political ontology: If Obama agreed with Bush, is it still
just Bush's fault?
The Bush tax cuts expire this year. Except for the legacy costs of the Iraq war,
Obama is free to recommend changing anything Bush did. The deficits he recommends
from 2011 on are purely his own.
And they are massive, and driven by spending.
Obama purposes that the federal government spend over 25 percent of GDP in 2011,
compared to a historical average of around 20.5 percent. He justifies this as
necessary to continue to fight the recession.
Obama, however, projects that the recession will be fully over in 2011 and robust
growth under way. Yet he proposes that federal spending continue to be nearly 24
percent of GDP through 2020.
In other words, rather than wind down the additional recession spending after
recovery, Obama is proposing that it simply become a new, higher base.
After the World War II debt was reduced, accumulated federal debt never exceeded 50
percent of GDP until 2009, when it reached 53 percent. Under Obama's recommendations
it would grow to 77 percent by 2020.
If Obama were to recommend a path to return spending to its historical share of
economic output, in 2020 the deficit would be just $255 billion, about what the
federal government spends each year on large capital projects, and just 1 percent of
GDP. In other words, not a problem. And federal spending would have still increased
by more than 4 percent a year since 2008.
Instead, Obama recommends a 2020 deficit of over $1 trillion and a troubling 4.2
percent of GDP.
Rather than recommend deficit reducing measures himself, Obama wants to turn the job
over to a bipartisan commission. Republicans suspect a rat, an attempt to get them
to support even larger tax increases than Obama is already proposing.
They are right. Under Obama's budget, revenues are already projected to be 19.6
percent of GDP, much higher than the historical average. Yet he still proposes
trillion dollar deficits.
The problem is spending. Obama wants to do too much of it.