Economy & Budget

Obama became most ‘fiscally irresponsible’ president in history, despite old rhetoric

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In a June 2008 campaign speech in Raleigh, North Carolina, then-Sen. Barack Obama railed against the Bush administration’s “mountain of debt” and reckless tax code.

{mosads}“George Bush’s policies have taken us from a projected $5.6 trillion surplus at the end of the Clinton administration to massive deficits and nearly $4 trillion in new debt today,” said Obama. “We were promised a fiscal conservative. Instead, we got the most fiscally irresponsible administration in history.”


It’s difficult to argue with the foundation of candidate Obama’s analysis; Republicans and the Bush administration spent far too much money in the early and mid-2000s. One analysis by Veronique de Rugy at the Mercatus Center calculated the size of the federal budget increased by greater than 50 percent under President Bush, and de Rugy found discretionary spending rose by 96 percent between fiscal year 2002 and fiscal year 2009. These troubling statistics are quite the opposite of what one should expect from an allegedly “fiscally conservative” president.

All those fine points made by candidate Obama, however, seem to have been lost on President Obama, who, according to his own standards, would not only be far worse than George W. Bush ever was, he’d be the new “most fiscally irresponsible” president in history.

By the time Obama leaves office in January, he’ll have nearly doubled the already massive national debt, adding nearly $10 trillion since 2009. Even more appalling, this figure means Obama will have added almost as much national debt as every other president and Congress before him—combined.

Obama’s supporters will say, as they have from the start, such a massive amount of government spending was necessary to keep one of the worst economic crashes in modern history from spiraling into a second Great Depression. But even if we assume the gargantuan, multi-billion-dollar bailouts of important financial institutions were needed and worth the initial investment, it’s hard to imagine how anyone could at this point argue the other trillions of dollars in expenditures have provided the economy with the boost Obama and Democrats promised they would.

Take the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, passed in February 2009, for example. This $830-billion “stimulus package” was supposed to keep unemployment from moving above 8 percent, but by April 2009, the unemployment rate reached 9 percent and it wouldn’t fall back below that mark until October 2011—and even then, it fell largely as a result of millions of people dropping out of the labor force, not because of significant economic improvement.

Despite the trillions of dollars in government spending pumped into the economy every year under Obama, America has never once enjoyed an annual GDP growth rate at 3 percent or higher, making Obama the least successful president—at least when it comes to economics—in modern history.

A historically sluggish GDP isn’t the only concern worth mentioning. Under Obama’s tenure, average annual food stamp enrollment has risen by more than 15 million (compared to 2008). The home ownership rate is the lowest it has been since 1995, the earliest year provided in the U.S. Census Bureau’s most recent report. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports more than 590,000 Americans say they are not in the labor force because they are discouraged, a figure that’s 26 percent higher than even the worst annual average under George W. Bush. Additionally, the employment-population ratio has been continuously below the 60-percent threshold under Obama; the last time it was this low was 1985.

Obama has often pointed to the large number of jobs added over his eight years in office as proof his government-centered economic approach works, but he always fails to mention the inconvenient fact job growth has failed to keep pace with population growth. Compared to the previous jobs peak, in January 2008, the U.S. population has grown by more than 20 million, but the number of jobs has increased by less than seven million. The size of the working-age population has also outpaced job growth.

Some of Obama’s supporters have acknowledged the economy has failed to grow in a substantial way, but they maintain Obama was instrumental in ensuring the state of the nation didn’t get much worse after the 2008 crash. Yes, Obama failed to fix the economy, they say, but at least things aren’t as bad as they would have been without his massive government-funded investments.

This short-sighted view, while commonly held, is exceedingly dangerous. Make no mistake about it: America is treading in dangerous waters. Trillions of dollars of debt, year after year of low interest rates, and a giant pile of IOUs made out to foreign governments have created artificial market bubbles that could potentially pop if the economy and the government’s balance sheet don’t turn around soon.

By overspending, the United States has created a great deal of distrust with much of the rest of the world, which still uses the dollar for the vast majority of international transactions. If the federal government doesn’t get its act together, it’s entirely possible, perhaps even inevitable, the world will move to some sort of a global, United Nations-backed currency for international transactions, a decision that would prove apocalyptic for Americans.

The president is leaving office with a sluggish economy, more Americans dependent on government, and with a national debt that dwarfs the failings of every other president in history, making Barack Obama, according to his own 2008 standards, the most fiscally irresponsible president ever.

Justin Haskins ( is executive editor of The Heartland Institute.

The views expressed by Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

Tags Barack Obama Barack Obama Budget Debt George W. Bush Jason Haskins
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