Republicans blame Democrats for the six fold increase in federal government spending from $533 billion in 1980 (when Ronald Reagan was elected president), to over $3.1 trillion in 2013. Their ugly secret is over seventy percent of this growth occurred while Republican presidents controlled the veto pen and had the last say on spending. As the comic strip character Pogo observed, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
Looking at the data
President Obama’s spending obsesses Republicans; yet his annual percent increase in spending is less than half of any Republican president in a generation. In both 2012 and 2013, he actually cut federal spending from the previous year. Judging from the first three-quarters of 2014, when all of 2014’s data is compiled, his average annual spending increase will be less than President Clinton’s, making him the most frugal president in over 35 years.
Republicans muddy the spending issue with their assault on Obamacare (which according to the independent Congressional Budget Office will cut the federal deficit). While Republicans claim the US’s welfare safety net needs dismantling, data indicates Republican spending is a bigger threat to our nation’s well-being.
Let’s just pretend it never happened!
From experience writing about Republican spending, Frugal Ron finds Republicans in a state of denial. Like other spending addicts, they blame others for problems of their own making. They can’t believe their heroes are spendaholics and that Democrats Clinton and Obama are far more frugal. Consequently, the Appendix of this article has step-by-step directions for accessing government data and reproducing Tables 1 and 2.
Tea Party Republicans to the rescue – Not!
Contrary to their rhetoric, Tea Party Republicans share their traditional Republican brethren’s propensity for big spending. Looking at Wisconsin’s recent governors, traditional Republican Tommy Thompson’s 7.4% annual spending increases fit right in with Ronald Reagan and the two Bush presidencies. Democrat Jim Doyle’s spending is a frugal carbon copy of Democratic Presidents Clinton and Obama.
While Governor Walker’s average increase in spending is low, the trend does not bode well. His first year in office saw a 6.9% increase in spending above Governor Jim Doyle’s last year in office. Spending dropped 3.2% in fiscal 2012 following passage of Act 10 and major cuts in school funding and state employee benefits. Spending went up 2.3% in fiscal 2013. In 2014, it jumped another 5.5%. What the data tells us is that except in years Walker makes major cuts to education and employee benefits, spending goes up dramatically.
Who loves bureaucracy?
While Scott Walker talks the talk on small government, it’s President Obama who walks the walk.
Wisconsin state government employment (these numbers show only state employees, not county, municipal or towns) trended up somewhat during the Doyle Administration and then dropped during Doyle’s hiring freeze. Governor Scott Walker assumed office in January 2009. State employment had stabilized by then, but under Walker’s leadership, rose and continues to rise dramatically. If Walker follows his current hiring trajectory, he will soon employ the largest bureaucracy in Wisconsin history.
Federal government employment (this data does not include military personnel), was rising when President Obama assumed office in January 2009. This trend changed dramatically. There are 143,000 less federal government employees in November 2014 that there were in November 2010.
To put this in perspective, there were 107,000 Wisconsin government employees in November 2014. In the last four years, the federal government lowered employment by more than the total number of Wisconsin state employees.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the federal government now employs the fewest people since 1966. On a per capita basis, it is the lowest since 1939.
Under Tea Party Republican Governor Walker, the Wisconsin state government workforce increased 5% since 2011. Under Democrat President Obama, federal government employment declined 5% since 2010. In the last fiscal year, Wisconsin state government spending increased 5.5%. In the last calendar year we have complete data on (2013), federal government spending under Obama’s watch dropped. Which of these politicians is the conservative champion of small government?
Republicans can argue Obama kept year on year spending low by applying the money President George W. Bush wasted in his disastrous Iraq War and in subsequent years spending it on infrastructure repairs and providing food stamps to needy families. While Obama made far better spending choices than Bush, this had some impact on keeping spending low during the Obama Administration. The lesson here is that while data leaves no doubt Democrats are better stewards of taxpayers dollars than Republicans, we can’t depend on Democrats to shrink the size of government.
Nevertheless, Republicans’ ugly secret that they are the champions of big government answers a lot of questions about the US’s current financial predicament. It emphasizes a point made often on this website, that the United States desperately needs a true conservative party.
Republicans are euphoric about their recent electoral wins. However, the wise ones understand the same fickle voters that recently gave them these victories threw Republicans out of office in 2008 after eight years of implementing the policies Republicans are still advocating today. While liberal big spending combined with deficit be damned tax cuts win elections, the resulting financial chaos catches up with Republicans.
Conversely, true conservatives strive for a government that stays out of people’s lives as much as possible and only intervenes in the economy to rectify a situation where capitalism can’t achieve an outcome benefitting the common good. True conservatism stands for smaller and smarter government. Sadly, Republicans abandoned these principles long ago.
To reproduce Table 1:
Get annual federal government spending data:
Go to http://www.bea.gov/iTable/index_nipa.cfm.
Click on “Begin using the data”.
Click on “Section 3 – Government Current Receipts and Expenditures”.
Click on Table 3.2 Federal Government Current Receipts and Expenditures”.
Click on “Modify”.
In “Last Year” box, click on “Most Recent”. For “First Year” click on 1980. This is the year before President Ronald Reagan assumed office. Under “Series”, keep things simple and select “Annual”. Click “Refresh Table”.
Click “Download”. Choose “XLS” to download into an Excel worksheet.
If you have “Excel” on your computer, it should open automatically on your desktop. If not, check your “Downloads” folder on your computer and find the spreadsheet.
Save the spreadsheet in your Documents folder or somewhere you can find it again.
Widen Column B so you can read all the labels. You now have federal government data on spending and receipts over the last 34 years.
To calculate average annual spending increases during each presidential term: (Do not include “”).
Insert a blank line under “Total Expenditures”. This should be under Line 39 or Row 47 on the spreadsheet.
In Cell B47, type “Annual percentage change in total spending”.
In Cell D47, Enter the following: =(D46-C46)/D46 After hitting “Return/Enter”, change the value to a percent with three significant figures. Example 13.5%. This is the percent that government spending changed during Ronald Reagan’s first year in office.
Highlight Cell D47 and click “Copy”. Then highlight the rest of Row 47 to the end of he data. Select “Paste Special” from the menu. On the pop-up box, select “Formulas and number formats” and click “OK”. You have just calculated every year’s annual spending change from 1981-2013.
Highlight in yellow the new row of data you created.
In Cell B64, type “President”. Directly below, type “Ronald Reagan”. In each cell below, type George Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
In Cell C64,type “Average annual percentage spending change”. You may need to wrap Cell C64. In Cell D64, type “Total percentage annual spending increase during term”. You will want to wrap this text also.
Click on Cell C65 and then on the top of your sheet is “Auto Sum”. Click on the downward pointing arrow next to Auto Sum and select “Average”. Now move your cursor over D47 and continue over that row for eight years (Reagan’s term in office). Click “Return/Enter”. Alternatively, in Cell C64, you can type =AVERAGE(D47:K47)
In Cell D65, enter: =(K46-C46)/C46 and click “Return/Enter”. Change the value to a percentage. This is the percentage increase in annual federal spending from the start of Reagan’s term to the end.
In Cell E64, Type “Total $ annual spending increase during term”. Wrap the text in this cell. In Cell E65, Type “=K46-C46”. Click “Return/Enter”. This total is the difference between annual federal spending in Reagan’s last year in office and the year before Reagan took office.
For George Bush, in Cell C66, type “=Average(L47:O47)”. In D66, type “=(O46-K46)/K46”. Click “Return/Enter”. Change the value to a percentage.
In Cell E66, type “=(O46-K46)”. Click “Return/Enter”. Change the value to $.
For Bill Clinton, in Cell C67, type “=AVERAGE(P47:W47)”. Click Return/Enter” and change the value to a percentage.
In Cell D67, type “=(W46-O46)/O46″. Click Return/Enter” and change the value to a percentage.
In Cell E67, type “=W46-O46”. Click “Return/Enter”. Change the value to $.
For George W. Bush, in Cell C68, type “=Average(X47:AE47)”. Click “Return/Enter”. Change the value to a percentage.
In Cell D68, type “=(AE46-W46)/W46. Click “Return/Enter”. Change the value to a percentage.
In Cell E68, type “=AE46-W46”. Click “Return/Enter”. Change the value to $.
For Barack Obama, in Cell C69, type “=AVERAGE(AF47:AJ47)”. Click Return/Enter” and change the value to a percentage.
In Cell D69, type “(AJ46-AE46)/AE46″. Click Return/Enter” and change the value to a percentage.
In Cell E69, type “=AJ46-AE46”. Click “Return/Enter”. Change the value to $.
Next to Reagan’s name, type (R) (8). This identifies Reagan as a Republican and that his term was eight years.
Next to George Bush, type (R) (4).
Next to Bill Clinton, type (D) (8).
Next to George W. Bush, type (R) (8).
Next to Barack Obama, type (D) (5*)
Below graph, type “* Incomplete term, number of years data used.”
Below this, add “Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis, Table 3.2, Federal Government Current Receipts and Expenditures, http://www.bea.gov/iTable/iTable.cfm?ReqID=9&step=1#reqid=9&step=3&isuri=1&904=1980&903=87&906=a&905=1000&910=x&911=0”
To calculate the increase in annual government spending since the start of Ronald Reagan’s term in office:
In Cell B73, type “Total increase in federal govt. spending since 1980 (billions)”
“. Click “Return/Enter”. Click “Wrap text” if needed.
In Cell E72, type “=Sum(E64:E69)”. Click “Return/Enter”. Change number format to $ if necessary.
In Cell B73, Type, ” Total increase in federal government spending since 1980 occurring during Republican administrations (billons)”
In Cell 73, type “=SUM(E65+E66+E68)”
To calculate the percent of the increase in federal government spending since 1980 occurring during a Republican Administration,
Type in Cell B74, ” Total increase in federal government spending since 1980 occurring during Republican administrations (billons)”
In Cell E74, type “=E73/E72”
To access data in Table 3:
Go to http://legis.wisconsin.gov/lrb/bb/13bb/ to access Wisconsin Blue Book 2013-14. In search, go to Page 857.
For most current Wisconsin spending data, go to http://www.doa.state.wi.us/Divisions/Budget-and-Finance/Financial-Reporting/Annual-Fiscal-Reports
To access Federal government employment data in Table 4:
Go to http://www.bls.gov/data/
Under Employment/Monthly/Employment Hours and Earnings,- National (Current Employment Statistics – CES, select “Multi-screen data search
You will have number of choices from various screens.
On first screen, pick “Not seasonally adjusted”, then click “Next form”
On next screen, select “Government”, then click on “Next form”.
On next screen select “All employees, thousands”, then click on “Next form”.
On next screen, select “Federal”, then click on “Next form”.
On next screen, select “Retrieve data”, then click on “Next form”.
On next screen, you now have data, at top of screen, in From box, select “2002”, then click “Go”
On next screen, click Download “xlsx” and the data will be downloaded to your computer.
To get Wisconsin state employment data,
Go back to http://www.bls.gov/data/
This time, select Employment, Hours, and Earnings – State and Metro Area (Current Employment Statistics – CES). This is the selection below the one used for federal employment data.
Select Multi-screen data search
Check “Not seasonally adjusted”, click “Next form”.
On next screen, select “All Employees, In Thousands”, click “Next form”
On next screen, select “Wisconsin” from drop down menu and click “Next form”.
On next screen, select “Statewide”, click “Next form”
On next screen, pick “State Government”, click “Next form”.
On next screen, click “Retrieve data”.
On next screen, change “From” to 2002, click “Go”
Download data on next screen by clicking “.xlsx”