The right, as has been frequently observed of late, has developed an “alternative-reality” view of how we have arrived at our current budget-deficit impasse, placing the blame squarely on the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats. A runaway federal budget since 2009 is the key element in their story. In a July 15th editorial (“The Obama Downgrade”), The Wall Street Journal states this view succinctly:
“The early George W. Bush years saw spending bounce up to a plateau of roughly 20% of GDP, but no more than 20.7% as recently as 2008. Then came the Obama blowout, in league with Nancy Pelosi’s Congress. With the recession as a rationale, Democrats consciously blew up the national balance sheet, lifting federal outlays to 25% in 2009, the highest level since 1945.”
The editorial is accompanied by a chart to illustrate the basic claim–witness the remarkable uptick of the curve between 2008 and 2009:
At first sight, the chart appears to sustain the WSJ charge and to indicate that federal spending under Obama is of a different order of magnitude from the past. For a moment, it shook my own antipathy to the Republican position; maybe, in all fairness, the blame deserves to be more evenly divided between the two sides of the political aisle. My curiosity aroused, I probed more deeply into the numbers (which come from the OMB website). I’d like to share what I discovered. I make no claims about any special knowledge of the intricacies of the federal budget, just an affinity with numbers.
If you have followed me this far, you may have guessed what is coming—the discovery of a deceptive use of data. It begins with a disturbing piece of disingenuousness, if not dishonesty, in the WSJ editorial, which places the responsibility for remarkably high level of fiscal year (FY) 2009 expenditures entirely at Obama’s door. But a federal fiscal year begins on October 1 of the prior year, and the Bush White House was therefore the source of the FY 2009 budget passed by Congress and responsible for spending some of the money. The budget as proposed authorized . . .