So as I said, the big government expansion everyone talks about never happened. This fact, however, raises two questions. First, we know that Congress enacted a stimulus bill in early 2009; why didn’t that translate into a big rise in government spending? Second, if the expansion never happened, why does everyone think it did?
Part of the answer to the first question is that the stimulus wasn’t actually all that big compared with the size of the economy. Furthermore, it wasn’t mainly focused on increasing government spending. Of the roughly $600 billion cost of the Recovery Act in 2009 and 2010, more than 40 percent came from tax cuts, while another large chunk consisted of aid to state and local governments. Only the remainder involved direct federal spending.
And federal aid to state and local governments wasn’t enough to make up for plunging tax receipts in the face of the economic slump. So states and cities, which can’t run large deficits, were forced into drastic spending cuts, more than offsetting the modest increase at the federal level.
The answer to the second question — why there’s a widespread perception that government spending has surged, when it hasn’t — is that there has been a disinformation campaign from the right, based on the usual combination of fact-free assertions and cooked numbers. And this campaign has been effective in part because the Obama administration hasn’t offered an effective reply.
[The administration] has insisted throughout that its original plan was just right, a position that has become increasingly awkward as the recovery stalls.
And a side consequence of this awkward positioning is that officials can’t easily offer the obvious rebuttal to claims that big spending failed to fix the economy — namely, that thanks to the inadequate scale of the Recovery Act, big spending never happened in the first place.
But if they won’t say it, I will: if job-creating government spending has failed to bring down unemployment in the Obama era, it’s not because it doesn’t work; it’s because it wasn’t tried.
And there it is: while teabaggers have been instructed and deceived into raging against out-of-control spending, the facts are exactly the opposite; just as the idea of Obama as terrorist-sympathizer has taken hold when his policies belie it.