No, Government Spending Really Isn’t Going Up Right Now

By Jared Bernstein
Senior Fellow, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

On the Bill Maher show the other night, I pointed out that contrary to the talking point that government spending is spiraling out of control, it in fact went up only 0.6 percent, 2009-2012. Whenever I say that, I get emails from people who don’t believe it, and not just complaining conservatives. Many progressives can’t believe that’s the case given the hair-on-fire rhetoric about Obama’s alleged ongoing spending spree.

Well, here are the numbers, straight out of CBO. Spending went up a lot in the recession, as it always does, as automatic stabilizers like unemployment insurance and food stamps ratchet up, and the Recovery Act is in there too. But since then outlays have been flat, up less than 1 percent over the President’s tenure, 2009-2012 (as I said on the show) and actually falling as a share of GDP (the figure includes CBOs forecast for 2013).

And no, I’m not bragging about this — I think those two lines partially explain why this recovery has been such a slog: we hit back hard against the recession in 2009 and GDP started growing in real terms shortly thereafter. But we stopped too soon, certainly before the recovery reached most households.


Jared Bernstein joined the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in May of 2011 as a senior fellow. From 2009 to 2011, Bernstein was the chief economist and economic adviser to Vice President Joe Biden, executive director of the White House Task Force on the Middle Class, and a member of President Obama’s economic team. Before joining the Obama administration, Bernstein was a senior economist and the director of the Living Standards Program at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. Between 1995 and 1996, he held the post of deputy chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor.


This post originally appeared at Jared Bernstein’s On The Economy blog.

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