The Blog

Obama’s Deficit Spending Dwarfs WWII’s

8:00 AM, Nov 1, 2012 • By JEFFREY H. ANDERSON
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

From December 1941 to August 1945, the United States of America joined the other Allied powers and fought against the Axis powers in Europe and the Pacific, during the greatest and most destructive war in all of human history.  Victory required the complete dedication of the American citizenry, as well as an extraordinary amount of deficit spending to fuel the war effort.  According to official tallies from the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), deficit spending spiked more than 13-fold from 1940 to 1943, remaining at that soaring new level through 1945.  By the end of the war, the American and Allied cause had emerged triumphant, liberating hundreds of millions of people from tyranny.  But along the way, we had (quite understandably!) racked up staggering and unprecedented sums of deficit spending.  

Obama Photo

AP / Steven Senne

But it was nothing compared to deficit spending under President Obama.

In fact, under Obama, the federal government has already racked up almost twice as much deficit spending — in real (inflation-adjusted) dollars — as it did during all of World War II.  According to the White House OMB, we ran up $1.8 trillion in real (inflation-adjusted) deficit spending during fiscal years 1942-45.  According to figures from that same source, the Treasury Department, and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), we’ve now run up $3.4 trillion in real (inflation-adjusted) deficit spending under Obama — in less time than it took us to fight World War II.

That’s without counting fiscal year 2013, which is now underway and will eventually be added to Obama’s tab (regardless of whether he wins or loses on Tuesday).  According to Obama’s own budget projections (see table S-1), the federal government will rack up another $901 billion in deficit spending in fiscal year 2013, or approximately $748 billion in real dollars (using constant 2005 dollars — the measurement that the White House OMB uses).  That will bring the tally during just one term under Obama to $4.1 billion in real deficit spending — more than double our real deficit spending during World War II.

Moreover, that’s true even if you count all of fiscal year 1946 in the World War II tally.  For the United States, World War II spanned from the sixth month of fiscal year 1942 (back then, fiscal years went from July 1 to June 30) to the second month of fiscal year 1946.  The best estimate of our spending during the war is to count fiscal years 1942-45.  But even if one were to count fiscal year 1946 as well, thereby including an extra 15 months of spending when we weren’t actuallly at war (five on the front end and ten on the back end), the tally for deficit spending during World War II would be $1.95 trillion in real dollars (see Table 1.3).

Compare that to under Obama.  According to the CBO (see table 1-2), Obama’s economic “stimulus” added $183 billion, or approximately $165 billion in real (inflation-adjusted) dollars, to the deficit in 2009 — a year that, for the most part, goes on President Bush’s tab.  (Obama’s “stimulus” went on to add far more deficit spending in subsequent years.)  According to the OMB (see table 1.3), the deficit was $1.293 trillion in fiscal year 2010, or $1.153 trillion in real dollars; and it was $1.300 trillion in fiscal year 2011, or $1.128 trillion in real dollars.  According to the Treasury Department, the deficit was $1.089 trillion in fiscal year 2012, or approximately $922 billion in real dollars.  Add it all up and Obama’s tab through his first three years, in real dollars, is $3.4 trillion in deficit spending.

It is a truly jaw-dropping display of fiscal recklessness to rack up enough real (inflation-adjusted) deficit spending in just three years to dwarf our real (inflation-adjusted) deficit spending during all of World War II.  Before Obama’s term, few likely would have believed it possible.

Recent Blog Posts

The Weekly Standard Archives

Browse 20 Years of the Weekly Standard

Old covers