Paul Krugman writes: “…I see that John Taylor is peddling the zombie claim that there has been a huge expansion in the federal government under Obama.”
He produces this graph as evidence that there hasn’t been a huge expansion under Obama:
And he explains:
“Income security” is unemployment insurance, food stamps, SSI, refundable tax credits – in short, the social safety net. Medicaid is a means-tested program that also serves as part of the safety net. Yes, spending in these areas has surged – because the economy is depressed, and lots of people are unemployed.
What we’re seeing isn’t some drastic expansion of Big Government; we’re seeing the government we already had, responding to a terrible economic slump.
Krugman is right that automatic stabilizers and Medicaid have been the biggest drivers of the increase in spending so far. But the story is a little different when you look at those same numbers in absolute terms instead of growth rates (CBO data, in 2010 dollars):
As you can see, “everything else” is a much bigger category in absolute terms than one might guess from looking at Krugman’s graph.
But there’s still a weird element to this graph: the x-axis categories, again. Krugman includes two full years of the Bush administration (2007-2008) as Obama years. He explains that he used those divisions because 2007 was the last pre-recession year, and the recession has changed the size and composition of government outlays. The recession led to an increase in automatic stabilizer spending under Bush, too. In order to get a more direct comparison of Bush vs. Obama, I generated a graph illustrating Bush’s last two years vs. Obama’s first two:
By the growth of “everything else” in this graph, it looks like there has indeed been a “huge expansion” of the federal government under Obama, including both automatic stabilizers and everything else.
That being said, I don’t think that this is the best or even a good way to assess the growth of government under Obama. I would argue that there was a huge expansion of the federal government under Bush, so it by no means absolves Obama to say that he’s merely keeping pace with Bush’s spending increases. Furthermore, the biggest spending increase engineered by Obama — the health care bill — has not yet gone into effect.
But the suggestion that Obama hasn’t expanded the government at all, or the claim that “[t]he “Obama spending binge” was almost entirely mythical” (a claim Jonathan Chait makes based on Krugman’s post), is likely to lead readers away from the truth.