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The spending surge that didn't happen

Republican policymakers have an extremely narrow policy agenda: cut spending. Every speech, every press release, every op-ed, and every interview features identical talking points about the "explosion of out-of-control government spending" in the Obama era, which GOP officials are desperate to address.

There's the rhetoric and then there's the reality.

Matt Yglesias flagged this chart showing the trajectory of total government spending at the federal level, and I added a nice, big arrow to point to the Obama-era spending (the gray areas reflect recessions). Matt explained, "[T]aken as a whole, consolidated government spending -- federal, state, and local -- simply hasn't surged. You can take the beginning of the recession or the beginning of the Obama administration or whatever you like as your starting point and it still hasn't happened."

That is not, incidentally, good news. After the Great Recession, the nation needed significant public investment to create jobs and boost economic growth. With interest rates at ridiculously low levels, the responsible thing to do was borrow like crazy and spend a lot more. Additional investments would mean lower unemployment and a faster, more robust recovery.

But policy prescriptions and Keynesian economics notwithstanding, the facts are the facts: every time Republicans whine incessantly about President Obama spending like there's no tomorrow, they're simply wrong.

What's more, Bloomberg News published a fascinating item today providing some useful historical context: "Federal outlays over the past three years grew at their slowest pace since 1953-56, when Dwight D. Eisenhower was president."

Robert Reischauer, a former director of the CBO, told Bloomberg that other than the Recovery Act, which was temporary stimulus spending, discretionary spending over the last few years "has been quite modest and is scheduled to go to levels we haven't experienced in modern times."

The conservative case has it backwards. The right wants to focus on debt reduction when we should be focused on jobs, and the right believes out-of-control spending is soaring when it's actually stalled.