Romney, Huckabee, Reagan, Hubbard, and Mankiw

Steve Benen has a post on Mitt Romney’s recent attacks on Mike Huckabee – the latter is closing in on the former in the crucial race for one of the particularly, ahem, uncorrelated-with-reality segments of voters in the race for the Republican nomination. Benen cites CNN:

“I must admit that I find the vision and the direction that Ronald Reagan laid out for this country to be very powerful and very compelling,” Romney told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. “I’ll tell you, Ronald Reagan would have never raised taxes like Mike Huckabee did, Ronald Reagan would have never said let’s give tuition breaks to illegals like Mike Huckabee did, Ronald Reagan would have never stood by and pushed for a budget that more than doubled during his term as president.”

“Mike Huckabee as a matter of fact has a very different record than Ronald Reagan, and I’m pretty proud that my record stands up quite well.”

To quote Benen again:

Now, I don’t much care which of these two Republicans most resembles Reagan, and it makes very little difference to me whose attacks are more effective.

But if the GOP is going to fight over Reagan’s record, they should at least try to get it right.

I was curious about the figure, so I went to Google. The first spot that came up was the this blurb from the tragically misnamed “Club for Growth” which really doesn’t like the Huck either:

He [Huckabee] increased state spending 65.3% from 1996 to 2004

Its hard to reconcile an increase in state spending of 65.3% over the length of Huck’s tenure with more than doubling the budget over the same period, especially since its evident that they’re both talking about nominal numbers. Is Romney wrong, or the “Club for Growth” wrong, or both?

Well, according to the 1999 Statistical Abstract of the United States, the State of Arkansas’ Total Expenditures were equal to $9.661 billion in 1996. If I’m reading this right, the State of Arkansas operating expenditures (which I imagine is the budget more or less) amounted to $15.61 billion in FY 2005-2006. That’s about 61.5%, nominal.

Using the BLS inflation calculator, we find that $9.661 billion in 1996 is equal to $12.41 billion in 2006… the real, after inflation increase in Huck’s budget was 25%.

So Romney is off here… and the “Club for Growth” is in the ballpark. (Someone wake me when Hubbard or Mankiw, Romney’s economic advisers, explain the discrepancy, or when Romney corrects himself.)

But let’s look at Reagan, shall we? OMB Table 1.3 tells us Federal outlays… i.e., the budget for 1980, the year before Reagan took office, were equal to $590.9 billion. In 1988, outlays were 1,064.5 billion… an increase of 80%. In inflation-adjusted dollars, the increase was still an impressive 23%. (By contrast, the nominal and real figures in Clinton’s term were 29% and 10%, respectively.)

I don’t have a dog in this fight… frankly, I don’t know which candidate gives the the willies more – Romney or Huckabee. But it seems to me that Romney is wrong… once you take inflation into account, Huckabee looks very much like Reagan when it comes to the budget. And I can’t help but think that Hubbard and Mankiw have found themselves a candidate who is perfect for what they do.