‘Trillions’ Are the New Billions: How the Federal Budget Grew Detached from Reality

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During the Great Recession in 2009, Democratic leaders were forced to prepare their rank-and-file lawmakers for the sticker shock of proposing a $787 billion stimulus bill. During the current recession, Republicans are mocked as cheapskates for supporting a mere $4 trillion in relief.

Over the past 15 years, federal-budget numbers have escalated to the point of numbing most Americans with their incomprehensible magnitude. The laws of economics have not changed — economic growth has not been high enough to make these budget-busting promises affordable — but Washington’s spending appetite has swelled to a level unseen during any peacetime period in American history.

Look at the legislative responses to economic collapses. Between 1930 and 1940, Presidents Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt increased spending by 6 percent of GDP. During subsequent recessions, stimulus legislation typically approximated one percent of GDP. The dam weakened during the Great Recession, when a staggering $1.7 trillion in cumulative (and often bipartisan) stimulus legislation enacted between 2008 and 2013 amounted to approximately three percent of the larger multi-year GDP (and brought a recovery even weaker than the Obama White House’s “zero-stimulus” projection).



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