The conventional wisdom that President Obama has overseen a dramatic surge in government spending has always been shaky. But it faces perhaps its starkest rebuttal in new figures that reveal the sharpest decline of the last half-century in real federal, state and local spending during this presidency.
Perhaps not coincidentally, the new figures in the Federal Reserve Economic Data arrive just days after a lousy jobs report that has exacerbated fears that the economy may be in worse shape than expected. In recent years, state and local governments have received little federal aid to close their budget shortfalls and have therefore made large spending cuts since Obama’s 2009 stimulus expired.
“That saps demand still further aggravating a downturn and inhibiting a recovery,” said Chad Stone, chief economist for the liberal-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “State fiscal assistance in the 2009 recovery act was largely gone by 2011 and state spending cutbacks continued due to pressures for budget austerity in many states and at the federal level.”
The government spending cuts have come about amid a mood of austerity incubated by Republicans across the country shortly after Obama took office.
For a longer-term historical perspective, the drop in overall government spending after Obama’s stimulus funds expired in 2010 has been the sharpest since the 1950s, when the United States was demobilizing after the Korean War.
The new numbers provide more grist for the debate, such as it is, over whether contractionary economic policies slow growth. Conservatives say government spending is the problem, not the solution. Keynesian economists, notably Nobel Prize-winner Paul Krugman, have argued that pulling back on government spending while economic output remains below its potential threatens the recovery.
“Gosh, I wonder why the economy is underperforming?” Krugman wrote of the data.
Sahil Kapur is a congressional reporter for TPM. He previously covered politics and public policy for numerous publications including The Guardian and The Huffington Post. He can be reached at sahil [at] talkingpointsmemo.com.