It started with Rex Nutting's article at MarketWatch on Tuesday, May 22, 2012: “Of all the falsehoods told about President Barack Obama, the biggest whopper is the one about his reckless spending spree.”
Well, for me it started a few minutes earlier on Tuesday when I saw the following chart showing the annualized spending growth of several presidents going back to 1980 at Blue Virginia. a left wing blog. Blue Virginia wasn’t alone, though, since a similar story was posted at Rachel Maddow’s blog although Blue Virginia's was much more smarmy, "Brain-Dead Teapublican 'Out-of-Control Spending' Meme Bites the Big One (or Should)."
What looked weird on the above chart was that President Obama’s term was shown as FY 2010 thru FY 2013 while President Bush’s second term was shown as FY 2006 through FY 2009. It was then that I found the original Rex Nutting article.
By the following day, the story was busted by James Pethokoukas, among many others. At the American Enterprise Institute’s blog, EnterpriseBlog, he has three posts, two on Wednesday, here and here, and a third one on Thursday. His first on Wednesday said, “Actually, the Obama spending binge really did happen.”
His third post on Thursday came after White House spokesman Jay Carney had cited the Rex Nutting story, and included the chart below, which presents a far different picture. Here’s what Pethokoukas had to say:
"The shocking, contrarian piece was widely circulated in liberal circles and was even cited on Wednesday by White House spokesman Jay Carney.
"But there were a few problems with Nutting’s numbers. Nutting’s methodology assumes spending in the first year of a presidential term should be credited to the previous president. OK, fine. But he attributed a $410 billion spending bill in March of 2009 to George W. Bush even though it was signed by Barack Obama. Nutting also didn’t use inflation adjusted numbers.
"But I did both of those and got wildly different results from Nutting, as seen in the chart at the top of this post. (Note: I looked at absolute spending as opposed to the rate of increase.)
"My numbers show that spending under the ’10-’13 Obama budgets far outstrips spending by a generation of presidential predecessors. This should not be surprising since spending as a share of GDP under Obama is the highest in U.S. history outside of World War II.
"We can disagree about whether all of Obama’s massive spending is a good idea or not. But we can’t factually argue about whether it happened or not. It did.
"The Obama spending binge really did happen."
At noted above, a number of people busted Nutting's methodology. They include the following:
- At American Thinker: On May 23, Yossi Gestetner showed the "actual story is misleading at best." Gestetner wonders on May 24 how White House spokesman Jay Carney "has the blantant Chutzpa to use MarketWatch math." Then yesterday, Rick Moran noted that Pethokoukas's chart above is "devastating."
Last night, Glenn Kessler, The Fact Checker at the Washington Post gives "Three Pinocchios" to Jay Carney and the White House. (HT to Ed Morrissey at Hot Air). He does a superb job of breaking down the numbers, and concludes:
"Carney suggested the media were guilty of “sloth and laziness,” but he might do better next time than cite an article he plucked off the Web, no matter how much it might advance his political interests. The data in the article are flawed, and the analysis lacks context — context that could easily could be found in the budget documents released by the White House.
"The White House might have a case that some of the rhetoric concerning Obama’s spending patterns has been overblown, but the spokesman should do a better job of checking his facts before accusing reporters of failing to do so. The picture is not as rosy as he portrayed it when accurate numbers, taken in context, are used."
Washington Free Beacon notes yesterday that "President Obama referenced a dubious statistical report at a campaign event on Thursday, claiming: “Since I’ve been president, federal spending has actually risen at the lowest pace in nearly 60 years.” The online newspaper adds:
"The claim was drawn from a MarketWatch post by Rex Nutting titled “Obama spending binge never happened,” which has been resoundingly debunked and discredited by a number of experts.
"White House press secretary Jay Carney cited the same report on Wednesday when he told reporters that Obama “has demonstrated significant fiscal restraint” and urged members of the media not to “buy into the BS that you hear about spending and fiscal constraint with regard to this administration.”
"Carney said any reporting to the contrary could only be the result of “sloth and laziness.”
Then there are two editorials in the leading financial press:
- Wall Street Journal. The editorial is titled, "The History Boys" with the subtitle reading, "Obama's fiscal blowout that never happened, according to Obama."
"You wouldn't think that, after adding $5 trillion to the U.S.' debt, President Obama would seriously claim he's a fiscal hawk. But thanks to a misleading article on CBS' MarketWatch site, that's just what he's doing.
'"Since I've been president, federal spending has risen at the lowest pace in nearly 60 years," Obama said on Wednesday. "Think about that."
"Obama didn't turn to his own Office of Management and Budget to support this fact, or even the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office.
"Instead, he went to a CBS MarketWatch column by Rex Nutting, which claims spending under Obama has risen by an average of just 1.4%."
- Ann Coulter writes in her column posted at NewsBusters that "Ed Schultz claimed the chart exposed 'the big myth' about Obama's spending: "This chart -- the truth -- very clearly shows the truth undoubtedly." And the truth was, the "growth in spending under President Obama is the slowest out of the last five presidents."
- John Lott's Website. First, Lott writes, "I didn't think that I could be so stunned by Obama's claim in Colorado. At the US Air Force Academy Obama today claims: "After inheriting a $1 trillion deficit, I signed $2 trillion of spending cuts into law. My opponent won't admit it, but it's been starting to appear in places -- real liberal outlets like the Wall Street Journal," linking to a Colorado Statesman story that included reporting on a Denver fundraiser. Second, Lott posts a radio clip from the Larry Elder radio show, which includes embedded clips of Chris Mathews referencing the same Rex Nutting story.
- In two separate columns (May 23 and May 24) at CNS News, Terence Jeffrey goes into great detail in clarifying the issues raised in the Rex Nutting column. The latter includes a video of President Obama's comments at a Denver campaign event.
- At Townhall.com, Kevin Glass writes about the Nutting column, and how it has "made the rounds on the blogosphere. It got fact-checked by Politico. White House spokesman Jay Carney cited it. It's the latest left-wing talking point that President Obama has actually put a slow to the growth of government spending." But, he adds, " it's completely false."
One by Mike Brownfield on Friday morning starts out: "There are some things that are so apparent that they’re not even worth mentioning. What goes up must come down. The earth is round. President Barack Obama is a big spender. But this week, some in the media and in the White House are denying one of these totally obvious truths. It shouldn’t be a big surprise which one it is."
A second by J.D. Foster took on the "Carney Kool-Aid," and noted that: " But in the press gaggle yesterday, White House spokesperson Jay Carney dropped a doozy, suggesting anew that the Obama Administration is living in a fantasyland all its own . . . Carney broke off answering a question about Baghdad to insert the following: The rate at which spending has increased is lower under President Obama than all of his predecessors since Dwight Eisenhower."
Then, Brian Dowling provides a thoroughly detailed takedown of Rex Nutting's column.
And finally, Emily Goff covers yet more details surrounding Rex Nutting's controversial column, including a helpful federal budgeting chart.
This is not the first time that someone has questioned statements by MarketWatch and/or Mr. Nutting. At NewsBusters in 2009, Tom Blumer questioned Mr. Nutting's reporting of GDP history. Two points are worth making, however. First, beware of people tossing numbers at you. It is obvious in this case that people using Mr. Nutting's numbers to support their argument ended up looking foolish. And second, learn to use "audited" accounting data. The numbers may still be incorrect, but the risk of using them is far, far lower. And as Larry Elder noted at the second John Lott post, President Obama didn't cite either his own Office of Management and Budget or the Congressional Budget Office, but a researcher/columnist. So a third point is to know your sources.
UPDATE (5/27/12): Four additional members of the alternative media takedown Rex Nutting.
- Two posts at Americans for Tax Reform. In one post, Hugh Johnson opines, "Pethokoukis is correct in pointing out Nutting’s flawed analysis and wins the Twitter war with a nice counterfactual that ATR likes to cite: How much higher would spending be if Democrats still had huge congressional majorities?" In the second post, Mattie Duppler offers the opinion that "Federal spending historically averages 21 percent of GDP. During Obama's four years, spending has been well above 24 percent."
- On Friday afternoon, Washington Post uber-blogger Ezra Klein begins saying, "There’s a confused and confusing debate going on over whether President Obama has presided over a “spending binge,” as Republicans claim, or whether, under Obama, “federal spending is rising at the slowest pace since Dwight Eisenhower brought the Korean War to an end in the 1950s.” However, he adds to the confusion by wandering off into a partisan blame game.
- Tom Blumer, who took down a previous Nutting column in 2009, as mentioned above, once again cuts through the fog at Pajamas Media yesterday with a detailed explanation that includes three helpful spreadsheets.
- Finally, and perhaps keeping the best for last, Dan Mitchell weighs in at the Cato Institute's blog, Cato@Liberty on Friday. And yes, President Obama "does win the prize for being the most fiscally conservative president" if only "primary spending" is counted. However, if you count "primary spending minus defense and bailouts," then President Obama "drops from second to second-to-last." But Mitchell also writes that "Obama's track record does show that he favors an expanding social welfare state." Mitchell does a good job, though, of walking through the various numbers. His post also shows the importance of being clear about the numbers you are using.
UPDATE (5/28/12): At the Competitive Enterprise Institute's blog, OpenMarkets.org last Friday, Hans Bader took down not only Rex Hutting, but also Rick Ungar, who used his Forbes column to continue the Rex Nutting silliness.
UPDATE (5/29/12): Re: Dan Mitchell provides Part II on whether President Obama is a big spender (see last bullet above) at Cato@Libert today. He writes:
"And how can these numbers make sense when the President saddled the nation with the faux stimulus and ObamaCare?
"Good questions. It turns out that Obama’s supposed frugality is largely the result of how TARP is measured in the federal budget. To put it simply, TARP pushed spending up in Bush’s final fiscal year (FY2009, which began October 1, 2008) and then repayments from the banks (which count as “negative spending”) artificially reduced spending in subsequent years."
UPDATE (8/13/12): Not to be outdone in all the backlash to Rex Nutting's fiscal wisdom was the comprehensive response posted by Peter Ferrara on May 30, 2012 in the American Spectator. Here's a very small portion of it:
"Nutting begins his stumbling by explaining to us, "What people forget (or never knew) is that the first year of every presidential term starts with a budget approved by the previous administration and Congress." Not exactly.
"The previous administration, or President, proposes a budget. The previous Congress approves a budget. And what Congress approves can be radically different from what the President proposes.
"For fiscal year 2009, President Bush in February, 2008 proposed a budget with a 3 percent spending increase over the prior year. But Nutting seems to have no memory that the Congress in 2008 was controlled by Democrat majorities, with the renowned budget skinflint Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House, and the restless Senator Obama already running for President, just four years removed from his glorious career as a state Senator in the Illinois legislature.
"As Hans Bader reported on May 26 for the more careful Washington Examiner, the budget approved and implemented by Pelosi, Obama, and the rest of the Congressional Democrat majorities provided for a 17.9 percent increase in spending for fiscal 2009! Not that President Bush was a fiscal conservative. Far from it. But Obama and Pelosi have served as drunken sailors to Bush's comparative Boy Scout on the issue."