It shocked the nation and spawned an entire political movement that led to a shift in the political balance. Spending during Obama’s first few years in office was at a level never seen previously in our nation’s history except during the height of WWII. It provoked the Tea Part counter-movement, as “STOP SPENDING” bumper stickers propped up across the nation. Fast-forward eight years later, and under Trump and Republicans, spending is now even higher, with a much healthier economy and job market.
During the first 33 full months of the Trump administration – from February 2017 through October 2019 – the federal government has spent roughly $11.762 trillion, according to tabulations of monthly statements from the Treasury Department. If you flash back to the equivalent 33-month period during the beginning of Obama’s first term – from February 2009 through October 2011 – spending was approximately $10.3 trillion. That was the period of all the bank bailouts and the stimulus. That was the period where we saw the expansion of welfare and unemployment benefits. Yet, today, outlays are 13.2 percent higher than the infamous spending binge.
To be fair, if you factor in inflation, the percentage increase is not nearly as dramatic. Using OMB tables expressing the spending figures in constant 2012 numbers, according to my rough calculation, Obama’s tab for the first 33 months would be $10.385 trillion and Trump’s at $10.722. That would be only a 3.2 percent increase. However, a Republican presidency increasing spending in any way over the catastrophic levels of Obama is indefensible and demonstrates why we will never “conserve” anything under the Republican Party and the political system of the one-way ratchet.
During 2009-2011, we were still languishing from the worst recession in memory. Unemployment was rampant, and many more public services were being used, as revenue to the Treasury plummeted. Contrast that to today, with one of the best job markets post-WWII, and it’s simply inexcusable for spending to be this high under a Republican administration with trifecta control of government for the first two years. Whereas unemployment during 2009-2011 hovered between 9 and 10 percent, under Trump, it has dropped from 4.7 to 3.6 percent.
Let’s look at the revenue side of the ledger. Whereas spending (in non-adjusted terms) has been 13.2 percent higher during the first 33 months of the Trump administration relative to Obama, revenue has been 47 percent higher. We only collected $6.3 trillion in revenue during the period from February 2009 to October 2011, as opposed to $9.3 trillion over the equivalent period under Trump. As such, we did rack up more debt under Obama for the same interval of time ($4.3 trillion as opposed to $3.1 trillion), but the debt today is much more indefensible. It’s simply astounding to be spending this amount of money with virtually full employment.
Much of the upward trajectory in spending is driven by Medicare and Social Security, both on autopilot with more enrollees from an aging population. But that in itself demonstrates the complete failure of the GOP to either address mandatory spending or at least cut discretionary spending to make up for some of the growth of entitlements. There is no reason why, during the first two years, Republicans couldn’t have at least tackled welfare reform, even if they put Social Security and Medicare on a shelf. With a booming job market, they had the perfect opportunity to sell a message of “jobs, not welfare,” much more so than in 2009.
What sort of conservatism are we actually conserving? If not fiscal conservatism, what about social conservatism? That was lost a decade ago. Republicans won’t be seen anywhere near civilization and cultural battles.
What about sovereignty and security? Just look at the border numbers, deportation numbers, and rise of sanctuary cities unchecked by the federal government. Border numbers surged to record levels until they finally took action; however, even with the reduced border flow of 45,000 per month, it’s still two to three times the level during the first months of the administration. The number of sanctuary jurisdictions has nearly doubled, and Republicans have done nothing to counter them in budget bills, with legislation, or through checking the courts that defend them. Deportations are down sharply, some of which is a redundant manifestation of the border crisis. ICE lacks resources to deal with even the worst criminal aliens, yet everything in the budget was increased under Republicans except for funding for deportations.
And forget about the issue of crime. Almost every single Republican and “conservative” think tank is to the left of where Democrats were on crime under Obama.
Simply suggesting at any given snapshot of time that if Democrats were in charge, “things would be even worse” is a red herring. In the long run, we always wind up lurching to the left, and Republican politicians of just a few years later always wind up being to the left of Democrats of yesteryear. The inexorable march toward a socialist utopia continues.
While everyone is focused on impeachment and the upcoming presidential election, conservatives need to think long and hard about what the second term will look like without learning the lessons of the first term. In the best-case scenario, which is diminishing in likelihood, Republicans would merely achieve the same degree of power they had in 2017 and 2018. With the same Republicans in place, what exactly will change?
Sure, it’s true that relative to where Democrats would take us in 2020, we will be “better off.” But give it four to eight years, and in terms of most policy outcomes, we will arrive at that destination anyway … under Republicans. At that point, establishment conservatives will console us by saying, “It’s sure better than electing Democrats in 2028.” The ratchet will keep turning, forever in one direction.
Daniel Horowitz is a senior editor of Conservative Review. Follow him on Twitter @RMConservative.