UPDATE, May 31, 2012
While we have already shared some of the critiques of this fact-check in a previous follow-up story, critics have since noted that two of our fellow fact checkers -- the Washington Post Fact Checker and the Associated Press -- offered more negative rulings on related claims.
The Fact Checker addressed the apparent discrepancy succinctly in a follow-up column, saying "we did not evaluate the same thing."
There’s a widespread misconception that we gave a Mostly True rating to Rex Nutting’s MarketWatch column. After our original fact-check published, White House spokesman Jay Carney tweeted, "PolitiFact backs MarketWatch analysis of federal spending under POTUS & predecessors." Many conservative bloggers read our fact-check the same way, as they attacked us.
The assumption made by both sides is wrong. We examined at a Facebook post that said Mitt Romney is wrong to claim that spending under Obama has "accelerated at a pace without precedent in recent history," because it's actually risen "slower than at any time in nearly 60 years." The Facebook post does rely partly on Nutting’s work, and our item addresses that, but we did not simply give our seal of approval to everything Nutting wrote. In fact, half of the Facebook post stems from something else entirely -- a claim on Mitt Romney’s website.
Using and slightly tweaking Nutting’s methodology, we recalculated spending increases under each president back to Dwight Eisenhower and produced tables ranking the presidents from highest spenders to lowest spenders. By contrast, both the Fact Checker and the AP zeroed in on one narrower (and admittedly crucial) data point -- how to divide the responsibility between George W. Bush and Obama for the spending that occurred in fiscal year 2009, when spending rose fastest.
How you divide the spending between Bush and Obama for fiscal 2009 only makes a difference to our ruling if the shifts move Obama significantly up or down our rankings. Do they?
Nutting attributed spending from the first year of every presidential term to the previous administration, arguing that every new president starts their term four months into a fiscal year begun under their predecessor. Historically, this has not been a particularly controversial approach, and even some of Nutting’s critics we spoke to agreed that it’s not a bad rule of thumb.
But fiscal year 2009 was special because it came amid an economic and financial free fall that drove the nation’s leaders to spend a lot more than they ordinarily would. Nutting did take these factors into account, but not to the extent that some critics think is needed. Nutting shifted $140 billion in fiscal 2009 spending from two of Obama’s signature programs -- the economic stimulus package and an expansion of the Children’s Health Insurance Program -- out of Bush’s column and into Obama’s. He also shifted excess spending beyond what Bush would have spent from the appropriations bills signed by Obama in 2009.
A number of critics also argued that spending for the Troubled Asset Relief Program should be taken into account. This program aided troubled financial institutions and involved a lot of money going out the door in fiscal 2009 and a lot of money coming in the door in subsequent years as the money was paid back to the treasury. The critics note that counting the TARP expenses as Bush’s artificially raises the baseline level of spending Obama inherited, thereby making Obama’s subsequent spending increases seem unrealistically small.
We think reasonable people can disagree on which president should be responsible for TARP spending, but to give the critics their say, we’ll include it in our alternative calculation. So, combining the fiscal 2009 costs for programs that are either clearly or arguably Obama’s -- the stimulus, the CHIP expansion, the incremental increase in appropriations over Bush’s level and TARP -- produces a shift from Bush to Obama of between $307 billion and $456 billion, based on the most reasonable estimates we’ve seen critics offer.
That’s quite a bit larger than Nutting’s $140 billion, but by our calculations, it would only raise Obama’s average annual spending increase from 1.4 percent to somewhere between 3.4 percent and 4.9 percent. That would place Obama either second from the bottom or third from the bottom out of the 10 presidents we rated, rather than last.
When we encounter a compound claim such as this one, we consider the accuracy of each part separately. During our internal discussions, we give a preliminary rating to each half of a claim, then average them to produce our final, published rating.
Our extensive consultations with budget analysts since our item was published convinces us that there’s no single "correct" way to divvy up fiscal 2009 spending, only a variety of plausible calculations. So the second portion of the Facebook claim -- that Obama’s spending has risen "slower than at any time in nearly 60 years" -- strikes us as Half True.
Meanwhile, we would’ve given a True rating to the Facebook claim that Romney is wrong to say that spending under Obama has "accelerated at a pace without precedent in recent history." Even using the higher of the alternative measurements, at seven presidents had a higher average annual increases in spending. That balances out to our final rating of Mostly True.
A funny thing happened on the way to viral posting of my graphic--Politifact agrees with me. Well, mostly. They fault the graphic for not showing Congress' role in helping keep spending down. The thing of it is, that's not the point of the graphic or the graphic's intent. The point of the graphic is to indicate that Romney's view of this is false--regardless of the reasoning. So, to insinuate that I didn't include the reasons why isn't really a fair evaluation, because if people want to know the reasons behind the data, I have links and explanations for that, too. Right here in this blog post. I didn't pretend to explain the why, only the what. As my unbiased brother concludes: "I disagree with their assessment that your “graphic” has a shortcoming at all, let alone a significant one, by failing to mention congress’ influence. It may be true about their influence, but that’s not the point of the facts as presented to refute Romney’s claim."
Okay, this is kinda huge. Wall Street Journal Market Watch Website Today:
Wow. Just, wow. No commentary: the post just speaks for itself:
But it didn’t happen. Although there was a big stimulus bill under Obama, federal spending is rising at the slowest pace since Dwight Eisenhower brought the Korean War to an end in the 1950s.
Even hapless Herbert Hoover managed to increase spending more than Obama has.
Here are the facts, according to the official government statistics:
And of course the obligatory snarky delusional Romney graphic goes here:
- In the 2009 fiscal year — the last of George W. Bush’s presidency — federal spending rose by 17.9% from $2.98 trillion to $3.52 trillion. Check the official numbers at the Office of Management and Budget.
- In fiscal 2010 — the first budget under Obama — spending fell 1.8% to $3.46 trillion.
- In fiscal 2011, spending rose 4.3% to $3.60 trillion.
- In fiscal 2012, spending is set to rise 0.7% to $3.63 trillion, according to the Congressional Budget Office’s estimate of the budget that was agreed to last August.
- Finally in fiscal 2013 — the final budget of Obama’s term — spending is scheduled to fall 1.3% to $3.58 trillion. Read the CBO’s latest budget outlook.
|Romney's World Source: www.mittromney.com/spending|
Real World Source: Wall Street Journal Market Watch
Why do people think Obama has spent like a drunken sailor? It’s in part because of a fundamental misunderstanding of the federal budget.
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. The president only begins to shape the budget in his second year. It takes time to develop a budget and steer it through Congress — especially in these days of congressional gridlock.
The 2009 fiscal year, which Republicans count as part of Obama’s legacy, began four months before Obama moved into the White House. The major spending decisions in the 2009 fiscal year were made by George W. Bush and the previous Congress.
Like a relief pitcher who comes into the game with the bases loaded, Obama came in with a budget in place that called for spending to increase by hundreds of billions of dollars in response to the worst economic and financial calamity in generations.Oh, good lord, yes. I've been saying this for a loooooong time. In fact, I said it, again, in a post earlier today! Wow. Just wow. Wait, I already said that.