Comparing Presidents – Federal Government Spending

This post looks at the size of the federal government by way of Federal Outlays less Social Security, all as a percentage of GDP, by administration beginning with Ike. Its a follow-up of yesterday’s post looking at the number of Federal Employees.

Before we begin, I would hasten to add… unlike some of the other series I have looked at like growth and fiscal responsibility, on which Democrats tend to better, this is a measure of importance only to Republicans, but not to Democrats. Democrats, presumably, want the government to be of some “optimal” size – which presumably means they would make it bigger when they deem it too small to provide what they deem to be essential services, or they would make it smaller when they deem it too big and therefore too wasteful. In general, however, Republicans just want it smaller.

Let’s begin with a warning. Yesterday I warned our more sensitive readers to avert their eyes, for the data was not kind to the Holiest St. Ronald the Reagan, and in fact showed the Devil himself to be the President who went the furthest toward reducing the size of the Federal workforce. For those who were too careless to heed my admonition yesterday, I beseech you today. Avert your eyes or you imperil your soul.

Surgeon General’s requirements taken care of, we can begin. Several readers pointed out in comments yesterday that Clinton may have reduced the size of the Federal workforce through the use of contractors. One could remove employees from the payroll simply by privatizing them and hiring them as contractors. Thus, it would only be fair to look at spending. Which spending? Well, all of it, less items that the President cannot control. The big one over which the President has no control is Social Security. Its a transfer payment, its easy to break out, and it operates independently from the rest of the budget. (Data on Federal Outlays and SS spending comes from OMB Table 3.1 and data on GDP comes from OMB Table 1.2.)

So let’s see the numbers. Here’s the picture…

Here’s a summary…

Before anything else, I should note… it never fails, someone comes around erroneously arguing that its due to the Republican revolution and I have to go back and put the numbers into comments. So let me cut that off at the knees…

The annualized shrinkage from 1992 to 1994 was 3.26%. From 1994 to 2000 it was 2.37%. For those who can’t subtract, that’s almost a percent a year. As I keep pointing out, if Gingrich hadn’t interfered, its likely that Clinton’s performance would have been much better.

Which raises a question, again. Why don’t Republicans love Clinton? He had the second best economic growth in the sample (after JFK/LBJ), he was fiscally responsible, he reduced the size of government. Aren’t all these things that Republicans claim they love?

How can a Republican justify having voted for GW given a) Gore’s role in making the government smaller during Clinton’s term and b) GW’s rapid expansion of government – at a faster pace than even JFK/LBJ, beating out every other President. And its not like he’s done well at anything else either.

For extra credit, what happened after 1984 Congressional elections?

Anyway, gotta run. Have at it.