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Terence Jeffrey
Terence Jeffrey
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Obama, FDR Set Modern Records for GDP Spending


Obama, FDR Set Modern Records for GDP Spending

President Barack Obama said: "Since I've been president, federal spending has risen at the lowest pace in nearly 60 years." And then he said, "Think about that.

I went to the White House website to see what sort of historical light the data published by Obama's Office of Management and Budget would shine on his fiscal record.

The data says this: Since fiscal 1930, the earliest year for which the government has made official calculation, only two presidents have spent 24 percent or more of GDP for three or more straight fiscal years that started while they were president. They are Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Barack Obama.

The difference is this: FDR spent more than 24 percent of GDP in fiscal 1942, 1943, 1944 and 1945 — because the United States was fighting World War II.

Before World War II — during the Great Depression — FDR never spent more than 12 percent of GDP. That is less than half of what Obama has spent in each of the three fiscal years that have started during his presidency.

In fiscal 1946 — which started on July 1, 1945, when World War II was still on — the federal government spent 24.8 percent of GDP. But that was the last time the government spent more than 24 percent of GDP until 2009 — a fiscal year that started when George W. Bush was president.

In October 2008, the first month of fiscal 2009, then-Sen. Barack Obama voted for — and President Bush signed — a $700 bill bank bailout bill. In February 2009, Obama signed an $831 billion economic stimulus.

In fiscal 2008, the federal government had spent 20.8 percent of GDP. In fiscal 2009, that jumped to 25.2 percent of GDP.

Yet even if you assign to George W. Bush all fiscal responsibility for the post-World War II-record 25.2 percent of GDP the federal government spent in fiscal 2009, Obama is still the post-World War II champion for persistently high spending.

In fiscal 2010, according to Obama's White House Office of Management and Budget, the federal government spent 24.1 percent of GDP. In fiscal 2011, it spent 24.1 percent again. This year, according to OMB, it will spend 24.3 percent.

In the three fiscal years that have started during Obama's presidency, Obama has spent an average of 24.17 percent of GDP.

Leaving aside the fact that Obama cannot get a budget passed in Congress, and that it is not possible to predict how the U.S. economy will grow or not grow next year, Obama's OMB optimistically predicts his administration will spend only 23.3 percent of GDP next year.

Average that in with the first three fiscal years that started under Obama, and his average annual spending would come to 23.95 percent of GDP — which rounds to 24 percent.

How does Obama stack up against his modern-era predecessors as a spender of taxpayer money?

Whether you take his three-year average of spending 24.17 percent of GDP or his estimated four-year average of 23.95 percent, Obama beats all presidents from 1930 forward — including Roosevelt.

FDR presided over the start of 12 fiscal years — 1934 to 1945 (before 1977, federal fiscal years ran from July 1 to June 30). During those 12 years, which included much of the Great Depression and most World War II, the federal government spent an average of 19.35 percent of GDP per year.

It would have been far lower but for the war. In 1942, the first fiscal year of the war, it spiked to 24.3 percent. In 1943, it hit 43.6 percent of GDP. In 1944, it hit 43.6 percent again. In 1945, it hit 41.9 percent. In 1946, it was 24.8 percent. But in 1947, with the war over, it dropped all the way to 14.8 percent. And in 1948, it dropped again to 11.6 percent.

After World War II, average federal spending as a percentage of GDP went up with each successive president as the welfare state — started under FDR — matured and expanded, and the Cold War intensified.

President Truman spent an average of 16.89 percent of GDP; Dwight Eisenhower, 17.81 percent; John F. Kennedy, 18.63 percent; Lyndon B. Johnson, 18.86 percent; Richard Nixon, 19.52 percent; Gerald Ford, 21.05 percent; Jimmy Carter, 21.18 percent; and Ronald Reagan, 22.28 percent.

With the end of the Cold War, federal spending started to drop as a percentage of GDP. George H.W. Bush spent an average of 21.93 percent, and Bill Clinton, 19.41 percent.

It began climbing again with George W. Bush. Counting fiscal 2009, Bush spent an average of 20.51 percent of GDP.

Then we get to Obama's 24.17 percent.

Obama said: "Since I've been president, federal spending has risen at the lowest pace in nearly 60 years." But Obama's average of 24.17 percent of GDP is 17.84 percent higher than George W. Bush's average of 20.51 percent of GDP.

It is true that Obama has cut spending from the 25.2 percent of GDP in fiscal 2009 to the 24.3 percent of this year. Giving Bush all the credit for fiscal 2009, that means Obama has cut spending as a percentage of GDP since fiscal 2009 by about 3.6 percent.

Is even that the best in 60 years? In President Carter's last fiscal year, spending was 22.2 percent of GDP. By 1989, Reagan cut that to 21.2 percent — a drop of 4.5 percent.

In George H.W. Bush's last fiscal year, spending was 21.4 percent of GDP. By 2001, Clinton cut that to 18.2 percent — a drop of about 15 percent.

Even by this measure, Obama is no match for either Reagan — or Clinton.

Terence P. Jeffrey is the editor in chief of To find out more about him, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at



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