Hey, Big Spender

When you adjust for inflation and remove defense spending and entitlements, which recent presidential terms had the highest and lowest rates of discretionary government spending growth?
Neil Stevens has the full story. Remember to consider changes in control of Congress during terms, notably Reagan’s second (the Senate went Democrat) and Clinton’s first (the 1994 elections); it takes three parties (the White House, the House and the Senate) to spend, and credit and blame alike need to be shared.

14 thoughts on “Hey, Big Spender”

  1. I don’t find this graph all that interesting. It’s not surprising to find that congresses and presidents which spend more on military often spend less in other areas, and vice-versa.
    I would like to see Neil’s first graph, which is all spending along with a corresponding graph with what happened to our national debt/deficit over the same period. That would tell us not only how much they are spending, but how they are -financing- it.
    My big beef with democrats and republicans alike is that they will both spend and then finance it through debt rather than taxes. This was my big problem with Regan.

  2. Yet another demonstration of the disaster that is the George W. Bush Presidency.
    He spends like its the Great Society all over again – earmarks galore, a drug bill that costs more than all revenues taken in by the federal government from corporations, a federalized education program.
    And this chart doesn’t include the Iraq War. Why does he get a pass on that half a trillion dollar tab?(not too mention future costs in veterans benefits and medical care, lost services of activated reservists, the two years during which the stock market stood still and watched this war play out).
    Was the Iraq War so important that money was not an object? Such a priority that we couldn’t take the time to track the billions of dollars of cold cash we stuffed into planes and airlifted over there?
    Crank — this is an excellent chart. i would like to see another one that includes Discretionary War Spending. (note ‘Discretionary’ would be the adverb describing the adjective ‘War’ and not another adjective describing the spending)

  3. Not bad – but Defense+Entitlements eat up over half the budget(even excluding SocSec, I believe), excluding that would be akin to me excluding my rent from my monthly budget. Not all defense purchases in wartime go to a particular war directly – for example, the F22 today, or Nukes of yesterday (or today), so it’s not proper for him call out that as reasoning.
    Discretionary holds even less water for me, as this is spending required by law – yet it still can be changed by the President and Congress.
    Seconded with MVH’s comment about debt. Debt servicing may not be “discretionary” – but it as much a symbol of how the government grows as well as how you handle it.
    Debt+Entitlements+Defense >75% of the federal budget(I believe for most of the past 30 years). I am not impressed with keeping down 25% of what we spend, by anyone.

  4. One more thing – you also may want to ask why his numbers differ so much from AEI’s (https://www.aei.org/publications/pubID.20675/pub_detail.asp), especially since they both seem to be Real/Inflation adjusted. I have such a hatred for the CBO site I can’t go and easily check for this information.
    For example, on NonDefense Discretionary AEI has Reagan1 going down by -9.75%, but Neal has it going -11% year on year, for 3 years. That would mean by the end of 4 years, it would be down, say, more than 20% from the start.
    I’d guess it is that Reagan’s (just to chose one) first submitted budget was for Government Year 1982, vs. time his term started. After all, if Carter submitted the budget for 1981, the next president shouldn’t get blamed for it.

  5. “Remove defense spending and entitlements”???
    Are you kidding? That’s like saying, “removing losses,” the ’62 Mets had the best record of any expansion team in the 20th century.
    What exactly was considered, since entitlements & defense spending were “removed”? The cost of fueling up Air Force One plus annual Christmas gifts to the ladies who vacuum the Oval Office and dust off the presidential portraits?

  6. Whitehouse.gov has some good data at:
    Look at Table 7.1 – Federal Debt at the End of the Year – 1940 to present. In particular, the Gross Federal Debt/GDP ratio was 64.7% in 2006. I would like to see that somewhere in the 30-40% range as it was during the 1970’s.
    Also, on the discretionary spending topic, see Table 8.8 – Outlays for Discretionary Programs: 1962-2008 in constant (FY 2000) dollars, 1962-2008. It even breaks down the discretionary spending into sectors.

  7. Yeah, I bungled this one up pretty bad.
    One day, someday, I’m going to find the Holy Grail of metrics of spending discipline. And then mis-execute it.
    I’ll try again eventually, and again, and again. Maybe in 20 years I’ll figure out what I think of spending under Bush, heh.

  8. No problem Neil, it happens to everyone – Kudlow (to take one) routinely pushes non-inflation adjusted information, other people will single out how the tax cuts have grown the economy over the past few years, while ignoring the easy carry trade (from Japan) or historic low interest rates.
    It gets on my nerves as much as people who claim that the DJIA is at an all time high, and then forget about inflation.
    It’s easy to get worried about GDP growth as well. If we grow at 3.5% for the past 5 years, but federal spending accounted for .91% of that each year, is it all that impressive?
    Normally, I do some mix of Federal spending as a % of GDP, debt, debt as a % of GDP, and real (total) Federal spending. While it doesn’t change much unless you look at over time, total number of Federal employees (or % of workforce) is also interesting.
    Aside from that – best of luck if you find something.

  9. Remember that movie “Dave?” Where Kevin Kline impersonates the prick/crook in the White House? I loved the scene where he brought in his friend/accountant (I’m in one of those word/slash moods I guess) to audit the county’s books, and Grodin couldn’t believe what they/we (sorry, had to) would get away with.

  10. Daryl: I distinctly remember that scene coming on when I first saw the movie in a theater. The audience laughed fairly loudly at Grodin’s line “If I ran my practice this way, I would be out of business.” I honestly thought I had missed something. I turned to my date and asked what was so funny. I thought everyone realized what a mess government spending was. I thought Grodin’s line was something that everyone felt.

  11. DR & WD — I didn’t see the movie — but your description made me think of a great check on both the Federal government’s fiscal policy and its over-zealous regulation of corporate America.
    The President and the House Speaker should be required to comply with all of the SEC reporting requirements in relation to its ‘business/company’ i.e. the United States Government.
    George Bush and Nancy Pelosi would have to release and sign the US’ 10k, issue quarterly statements that update taxpayers on the government’s fiscal projections and so on.
    If they fail to properly disclose any material information or if they paint too rosy a picture, then we can all sue for damages.

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