Does Obama not know how much he’s spending?

Mickey Kaus Columnist
Font Size:

Today’s NYT campaign notebook has Obama sluicing the controversial Nutting Marketwatch chart straight off the Internet into a campaign speech, in which he proclaims “Since I’ve been president, federal spending has risen at the lowest pace in nearly 60 years.” (The exact sequence seems to be Nutting’s keyboard to Web to Carney to Obama to the world.) Obama’s instantaneous embrace of Nutting’s chart–a calculation so absurd even Ezra Klein tried to change the subject, since (among other things) it attributes all but $140 billion of increased 2009 spending most of Obama’s $800+ billion stimulus to Bush, while giving Obama credit for the repayment of Bush’s TARP loans***–raises an interesting pair of possibilities:

a) Does Obama really not have an intuitive feeling for how much he’s been spending? That’s a little like not remembering how much sex you’re having. He’s the one doing the spending, after all. Even if he wasn’t, you’d think an ordinary BS detector would kick in. It’s one thing to expect MSNBC viewers to be credulous. It’s another thing …


b) Obama doesn’t care if it’s BS as long as it might work.**

Are there any other possibilities? I don’t see them. … P.S.: I guess there is a third possibility–to Obama, this isn’t big spending. He’s in self-pitying mode, and feels he’s been admirably restrained. Big spending is … Sweden, maybe. But you’d think he’d still know the historic drift. …


**–This would not be out of the norm for presidents, of course. Remember Bill Clinton in 1995 telling donors he thought he’d raised their taxes too much. Or George H.W. Bush denying he’d called Reagan’s policies “voodoo economics.” …

***–Explanation of correction to text: Bryan White of PolitiFactBias notes that stimulus bill spending was spread out over a number of years, so $800 billion shouldn’t be attributed to the 9 months of FY 2009 that were Obama’s. White thinks Nutting’s figure of $120 billion is “in the ballpark” for 2009 stimulus spending–but (like the AP) he argues Nutting’s overall estimate is bogus for other reasons, mainly its treatment of Bush’s TARP loans.  Meanwhile, John Hinderaker notes that 2009 spending increased over Bush’s budget apart from the actual stimulus bill (the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act), thanks in large part to Obama and his fellow Democrats. Nutting also credits Obama with things like the pending massive cut in Medicare physician payments that are highly unlikely to happen, and with other spending restraints that are likely to happen but were forced on Obama after GOPs gained control of the House in 2010. Then there is Obamacare, likely to build in large spending increases for the years after 2014. Obama may have good reasons for being a big spender–including “stuffing the beast”–but it’s hard to argue he isn’t.

Mickey Kaus