(Updated; see below.)
Yesterday Ray Nutting, a columnist for The Wall Street Journal's Marketwatch website, published something that quickly became a major topic among bloggers across the political spectrum: Contrary to what many people think, spending has risen more slowly under Barack Obama than under any president since Eisenhower.
Nutting's analysis was fair and straightforward. He even took pains to attribute additional stimulus spending in fiscal 2009 to Obama.
Update: I originally wrote that "the fiscal 2009 budget had of course been passed under President Bush," and as a reply below correctly notes, that's technically not true. The final steps of the fiscal 2009 budget process were not completed until some weeks after President Obama took office. However, almost all the additional growth in spending in fiscal 2009 -- which began October 1 of the preceding year -- was the result of additional spending signed into law by President Bush.
Some conservatives have tried to spin the numbers to say something else, for example talking up the deficit, which is vastly more the result of tax cuts under Bush and Obama than Obama's stimulus spending. (In fact, tax cuts made up a huge part of the stimulus.)
Now Politifact has published its own analysis with somewhat different results. Technically, Politifact is responding not to Nutting directly (though it references what he wrote) but rather to a slightly different comparison in graphic form that went wild on Facebook, juxtaposing a chart of federal spending growth under different presidents next to a quote from Mitt Romney's website: "Since President Obama assumed office three years ago, federal spending has accelerated at a pace without precedent in recent history."
Politifact notes that the figures given in Nutting's column and in the Facebook graphic are not adjusted for inflation, so they not only provide their own, independently calculated growth rates under different presidents, they also give inflation-adjusted rates of spending growth, so low inflation, for example, doesn't masquerade as slow growth.
The result? So far under Barack Obama, U.S. federal spending, adjusted for inflation, has declined at a rate of one-tenth of one percent a year. That's a lower rate of spending growth than under any president in more than half a century. So I guess you could say the fine folks at MittRomney.com are technically correct: That level of frugality really is unprecedented in recent American history.
Incidentally, after correcting for inflation, here are how presidents since Eisenhower stack up (in a table shamelessly swiped from Politifact):
Fiscal year baseline
Last fiscal year
Average percentage increase per year
|George W. Bush||2001||2009||5.9|
|George H.W. Bush||1989||1993||1.8|