Tanner searches in vain for the ‘age of austerity’ in government spending

Michael Tanner of the Cato Institute probes in a National Review Online column the Obama administration’s Orwellian use of language in describing the president’s latest budget proposals.

The single most important thing that we could do to improve the American economy might be to give the president a dictionary.

Over the past few weeks, the Obama administration has been telling reporters that the 2015 budget proposal that the president will submit next week will “call for an end to the era of austerity.”

Austerity? Really?

During his first five years in office, the president has run up more than $5.7 trillion in debt. Of course, some might point out that at least some of the spending during the president’s first year in office can be attributed to President Bush.

That’s a fair point — if you count only that portion of the 2009 budget that is directly attributable to President Obama (roughly $203 billion), the accumulated deficits total a mere $4.5 trillion. (And if you don’t include TARP repayments, the real Obama debt increase has been more than $4.7 trillion.)

When President Obama took office, debt held by the public equaled 39 percent of GDP. Today, it exceeds 73 percent. That’s its largest share of the economy since 1950, when we were still paying down the World War II debt. If one includes intragovernmental debt (such as the bonds in the Social Security and Medicare trust funds), our national debt exceeds 103 percent of GDP, bigger than our entire economy. Of course, the unfunded liabilities of Social Security and Medicare have continued to grow as well. Throw those in and, even using optimistic assumptions, our real debt runs as high as $83.9 trillion, roughly five times larger than our economy. (By some calculations, it’s even higher.)

Austerity? Not so much.

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