November 15, 2010 3:16PM

Fiscal Commission Compared to Clinton

The Obama fiscal commission's draft report suggested that federal spending be reduced from 25.1% of GDP today to 22% by 2020, and lower after that. That's a reasonable goal for a centrist kind of commission, but let's remember that spending was just 18.2% in President Clinton's last two fiscal years, 2000 and 2001.

For the final report, the commission's staff might look to Clinton's budgets for guidance. The chart shows federal spending as a share of GDP in fiscal 2001 and fiscal 2012. Fiscal 2001 was Clinton's last year, and it was before all of President Bush and Obama's spending increases. I choose 2012 as the end year because most of the "stimulus" spending will be finished by then, defense is supposed be down a bit as foreign troops are partly withdrawn, and the economy will have hopefully recovered. Based on President Obama's Mid-Session Review, spending in fiscal 2012 will be 23.0% of GDP.

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Total federal spending is expected to increase 4.8 percentage points of GDP between 2001 and 2012. The chart shows that increases have occurred in every part of the budget--entitlements, defense, and domestic spending. Thus, the Obama fiscal commission is on the right track to propose cuts across all areas of the budget. However, it needs to be about 4 percentage points of GDP more aggressive in downsizing the government to get us down to Clinton-level spending.