President Obama speaks at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC. (Dennis Brack - Pool / Getty…)
WASHINGTON -- When a website affiliated with the Wall Street Journal ran a column earlier this week that claimed that under President Obama, “federal spending is rising at the slowest pace since Dwight Eisenhower brought the Korean War to an end in the 1950s,” it didn’t take long for the claim to catch fire.
The column was written by Rex Nutting of MarketWatch, a financial news site owned by Dow Jones & Co.
In just one day, a graphic that juxtaposed Nutting’s conclusion with a quote in which Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney accuses Obama of accelerating federal spending “at a pace without precedent in recent history,” went viral on Facebook.
Obama also seized on it, boasting to a gathering of supporters at a Denver fundraiser: “My opponent won’t admit it, but it’s starting to appear in places, like real liberal outlets, like the Wall Street Journal: Since I’ve been president, federal spending has risen at the lowest pace in nearly 60 years. Think about that."
And during a gaggle aboard Air Force One, White House spokesman Jay Carney used the column to warn journalists that “the president has demonstrated significant fiscal restraint,” and that reporting to the contrary would be the result of “sloth and laziness.”
That was enough to get the attention of fact checkers at a number of media organizations, and it appears the jury is still out.
Politifact, a project of the Tampa Bay Times, was the first to vet Nutting’s math.
“Obama has indeed presided over the slowest growth in spending of any president using raw dollars, and it was the second-slowest if you adjust for inflation,” the group concluded, and rated the claim “mostly true.”
But others have disagreed.
Glenn Kessler at the Washington Post gave the claim three Pinocchios. And the Associated Press has also taken issue with Nutting’s math.
Both argue that Nutting paints a misleading picture because he uses 2009 spending levels as a baseline for determining how much spending has increased under Obama. They note that 2009 was an anomaly year because of the huge expense of the Wall Street bailout, which began under President George W. Bush but was supported by Obama. (Because budget years begin in October, a new president is not typically considered responsible for all the spending that takes place in his first months in office.)
“The bailout ballooned the 2009 budget just before Obama took office, making Obama’s 2010 results look smaller in comparison,” said to the Associated Press. “… It also assumes Obama had less of a role setting the budget for 2009 than he really did.”
Obama signed nine of the 12 spending bills to fund Cabinet agencies in 2009.
Nutting’s claim also lit up the blogosphere and agitated budget experts at a number of think tanks.
Politifact reexamined the issue in a Friday post. Even after a second look, it stuck with its “mostly true” rating.