As other critics have noted, including former Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Holtz-Eakin, the MarketWatch analysis also incorporates CBO's annual baseline as its estimate for fiscal years 2012 and 2013. That gives Obama credit for three events unlikely to occur:
—$65 billion in 2013 from automatic, across-the-board spending cuts slated to take effect next January.
—Cuts in Medicare payments to physicians.
—The expiration of refundable tax cuts that are "scored" as spending in federal ledgers.
Lawmakers are unlikely to allow the automatic cuts to take full effect, but it's at best a guessing game as to what will really happen in 2013. A better measure is Obama's request for 2013.
"You can only make him look good by ignoring the early years and adopting the hope and not the reality of the years in his budget," said Holtz-Eakin, a GOP economist and president of the American Action Forum, a free market think tank.
So how does Obama measure up?
If one assumes that TARP and the takeover of Fannie and Freddie by the government as one-time budgetary anomalies and remove them from calculations — an approach taken by Holtz-Eakin — you get the following picture:
—A 9.7 percent increase in 2009, much of which is attributable to Obama.
—A 7.8 percent increase in 2010, followed by slower spending growth over 2011-13. Much of the slower growth reflects the influence of Republicans retaking control of the House and their budget and debt deal last summer with Obama. All told, government spending now appears to be growing at an annual rate of roughly 3 percent over the 2010-2013 period, rather than the 0.4 percent claimed by Obama and the MarketWatch analysis.
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