Federal Spending Balloons During Obama's Presidency: Opinion

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- There are some claims that are so outrageous that they go beyond the pale. Recently there have been various statements that federal spending during the Obama presidency has either been cut or has risen very little.

One recent example was a graphic that went viral. The graphic summarized a MarketWatch column.

Politifact.com rated the claim in that graphic "mostly true."

But such claims about the budget couldn't be further from the truth.

The numbers are publicly available to prove it. All you have to do is apply some second-grade math.

The following Web page from The American Presidency Project provides numbers on U.S. federal spending: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/data/budget.php.

The relevant data are near the bottom of the table, just above the reference footnotes.

Let's begin by determining the average spending per fiscal year during the 2002 through 2009 fiscal years. These outlays cover the administration of President George W. Bush.

(Note that each fiscal year begins on Oct. 1 of the previous year. So the 2002 fiscal year began on Oct. 1, 2001. Presidents typically submit budgets for the coming fiscal year on the first Monday in February.)

Outlays (the third column) go from $2.01 trillion in 2002 to $3.52 trillion in 2009. Add them all up and divide by eight, and you get an annual average of $2.60 trillion.

Then let's add up spending for the four years for which President Obama has submitted budgets. (Note: the fiscal 2013 budget has yet to be agreed upon by the White House and Congress, and numbers for fiscal 2012 and fiscal 2013 are estimates.)

For the first four Obama years, outlays average $3.66 trillion. That's a 41% increase over the average spending during the Bush years.

There are no two ways around this, folks. This is hard, cold math.

There is only one objection that can be made to these calculations. We are comparing an average of eight years (2002-2009 fiscal years) with an average of four years (2010-2013 fiscal years).

That's not fair, you say. You're darn right it's not fair! But for whom? The answer is that it depends on what federal government spending will be the next four years, so we can measure eight years over the previous eight years.

If the current administration intends to cut spending to less than the $3.66 billion average of its first four years, then this method of comparison would be unfair to Obama. If, on the other hand, it intends to increase spending to more than $3.66 trillion per year for the next four years, the comparison is too friendly to Obama.

I think we all know the answer to this question, don't we? Just to make sure, let's go to The White House's own budget page. The following PDF file from that page outlines its spending objectives: http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/omb/budget/fy2013/assets/tables.pdf.

It shows outlays for 2014 through 2017 fiscal years as follows:

Fiscal year 2014: $3.88 trillion

Fiscal year 2015: $4.06 trillion

Fiscal year 2016: $4.33 trillion

Fiscal year 2017: $4.53 trillion

Whoops, those numbers all exceed $3.66 trillion, so I guess we were too generous to President Obama after all. These numbers bring Obama's own projected 8-year average for annual spending to $3.93 trillion if he is re-elected in November. That's nearly $4 trillion a year!

Now compare that $3.93 trillion with the average annual spending during the previous eight years ($2.60 trillion), and the increase is no longer 41%, but 51%. In other words, the increase in federal government spending during Obama's tenure will have been 51%, assuming he wins re-election and fulfills his spending objectives.

This is either good or bad, depending on your view of federal government spending. If you believe society is better off with more government spending, a 51% increase over eight years should make you very happy and proud.

If you are of the opposite view, that federal government spending is already too high, then a 51% increase is going to make you have nightmares about a Greek-style fiscal crisis. Alarm bells will be going off in your head.

The one thing you can't say, however, is that there has been no growth, very little growth or (worse) cuts in spending during Obama's presidency.

The growth in Obama's first four budgets has been 41%, and using the administration's own projections for the next four years, will be 51%. Those are the hard, cold, numbers, like 'em or not.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.