NY Times ‘News Analysis’ Promotes Myth Obama Is Cutting Spending

On Wednesday, the New York Times published a News Analysis of the President’s State of the Union address entitled “In Age of Spending Cuts, Making a Case for Government.” While the author, Richard Stevenson, makes a correct argument for how the President is pushing for larger government despite a shrinking federal budget, he ignores how there is no actual reduction in federal spending.

In particular, there are at least seven misleading or inaccurate statements in the analysis:

First, the headline itself is inaccurate. Spending is still far higher than what it was when President Obama took office, and is expected to continue to grow. While spending is expected to go down when compared to expected increases, the actual dollar value of federal spending will still grow.

Second, and related, the article’s opening sentence claims “…President Obama made a case Tuesday night for closing out the politics of austerity.” According to Dictionary.com, austerity is:

mid-14c., "sternness, harshness," from O.Fr. austerite (14c.), from L.L. austeritatem (nom. austeritas), from austerus (see austere). Of severe self-discipline, from 1580s; hence "severe simplicity" (1875); applied during WWII to national policies limiting non-essentials as a wartime economy.

If the full sequester goes into place, the federal government will see about a 2.9% shave to spending – $109 billion out of a budget that hit $3.8 trillion in 2012. Considering the federal budget has grown by over $1 trillion in inflation-adjusted dollars since 2006, according to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) – or about 40% – it is hardly “austerity,” or “severe discipline,” to lessen spending by less than 3% in 2013.

Here is a chart showing the past 12 years of spending, and some future expectations by OMB. Clearly, spending is not going down:

 

Next, Stevenson claims the President “suggested that it is time for a more balanced approach, including accepting that government has a vital role to play in ensuring economic growth and a secure middle class.” This is misleading in three ways – first, because the assumption is that there has been no “balance” already. Given the $600 billion in tax increases put into place in January (over 10 years), and there have been no spending cuts put into place, the approach would seem imbalanced toward tax increases, not spending cuts.

The “balanced approach” argument assumes it is a lack of tax revenue that is causing deficits, when spending is the clear culprit. As Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) pointed out last year, cutting spending is not one half of a “balanced approach”– it is a fiscal necessity. 

Then, Stevenson’s line pretends Republicans and conservatives believe there is no government role “in ensuring economic growth and a secure middle class.” Never mind the rule of law, a strong military, a fair and equal tax code, local and state control over education, and the myriad other ways all except for the most extreme libertarians support.

Sixth, the analysis claims President Obama “[set] out” what he “considers an acceptable level of fiscal stability through Medicare cuts and tax increases…” Considering the inaccurate economic growth projections made by President Obama’s proposed 2013 budget, and his use of gimmicks to make budget cuts appear larger, what the President considers “acceptable” may not be equal to the realities considered by our investors and the financial markets. They’re not even equal to the realities reported by his own Treasury Department.

It has long been the liberal narrative that Republicans want to slash spending; Stevenson’s next claim backs that up fully. According to Stevenson, the President argued that America “needs to shift away from the focus on shrinking the government that has dominated politics for the past several years…” This statement describes the Tea Party movement, other fiscal conservatives, and libertarian activists, but in Washington even the official 2012 House Republican budget proposal continued to run deficits for almost two decades – hardly a “shrinking” of government – and the combined deficit reduction efforts signed into law in 2011 didn’t actually cut spending. They barely slowed the growth.

In other words, yes, reducing how quickly the federal government grows has dominated Washington. That is a far cry from “shrinking the government” or “spending cuts.”