Carney's 'B.S.'

Cites dubious measurements to argue for Obama's 'fiscal constraint'

White House press secretary Jay Carney on Wednesday cited a dubious statistical report in support of his claim that President Obama "has demonstrated significant fiscal restraint" during his first term in office.

From the White House pool report:

Unimpressed by your pool’s questions, Carney then offered an extensive and robust answer to one that was not asked, volunteering that Potus has been more fiscally responsible than Republicans say he has. He read a passage from Rex Nutting of MarketWatch stating that spending under Potus has grown more slowly than any president since Eisenhower and even more slowly than under Herbert Hoover.

"The president has demonstrated significant fiscal restraint" and applied a "balanced approach," Carney said. Any reporting to the contrary, he said, would just be the result of "sloth and laziness." He added a familiar attack on President Bush’s "tax cuts for the rich," which "contributed significantly to the red ink that was gushing" when Potus took over.

Carney urged reporters not to "buy into the BS that you hear about spending and fiscal constraint with regard to this administration."

Nutting’s post suggests that "Of all the falsehoods told about President Barack Obama, the biggest whopper is the one about his reckless spending spree."

To support his claim, Nutting compiled a chart using what appears to be a grab bag of fiscal data gleaned from several different sources, which purports to show that the "annualized growth of federal spending" under Obama is just 1.4 percent, the lowest level in nearly 60 years.

The post is being touted by many left-wing commentators and White House officials.

Jim Pethokoukis at the American Enterprise Institute points out the flaw in Nutting’s logic:

Nutting arrives at that 1.4% number by assigning 2009—when spending surged nearly 20%—to George W. Bush: "The 2009 fiscal year, which Republicans count as part of Obama’s legacy, began four months before Obama moved into the White House. The major spending decisions in the 2009 fiscal year were made by George W. Bush and the previous Congress. Like a relief pitcher who comes into the game with the bases loaded, Obama came in with a budget in place that called for spending to increase by hundreds of billions of dollars in response to the worst economic and financial calamity in generations.

Pethokoukis further notes that in the first three years of Obama’s term, federal spending as a percentage of GDP has averaged about 24.5 percent, a full point higher than the largest recorded level since World War II. For fiscal year 2012, the White House estimates federal spending at 24.3 percent of GDP, and according to the president’s latest budget proposal, it would average 23.6 percent of GDP over the next four years.

By comparison, federal spending under George W. Bush averaged just 20.5 percent of GDP from 2002-2009.

A recent post on the left-wing blog Think Progress employed a similar statistical sleight of hand to argue that federal spending is "lower today than when Obama took office." That post was also widely touted by Democrats and Obama campaign officials.

Many Republicans have argued that this is part of a concerted effort by Democrats to permanently justify historically high spending levels.

"It is basically an acknowledgment of the fact that Obama wants to make a crisis year (2008-09) into the new normal," Yuval Levin, a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, told the Washington Free Beacon. "They’re saying spending this year, when we are supposedly three years after the end of the recession, is okay at just a hair below the highest level since World War II, a highest level we achieved in the course of responding to a massive economic crisis. That’s not something to be proud of; it’s an admission of utter failure."