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Like many Republican candidates this year, Scott Bruun is hoping to beat Democratic incumbent Rep. Kurt Schrader by taking aim at government spending. Bruun says the country is awash in debt, weighed down by taxes, and spending money in a way that "insults drunken sailors."
He also says this: "The size of our federal government has more than doubled since the year 2000.’’
First, it’s important to note that Bruun was referring to total spending. He made his comment in a statement on his campaign’s website in a longer discussion about federal spending.
At first glance, it appears he is right. His campaign cited numbers from the federal Office of Management and Budget that show total federal spending in 2000 was $1.78 trillion. By 2009, spending increased to $3.5 trillion. So that’s about double in unadjusted dollars.
But if you account for inflation, the spending total is $1.78 trillion in 2000 and goes to $2.29 trillion in 2009. That’s only a 29 percent increase.
And other ways of measuring the size of the federal government also come up far short of "double."
Robert Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, an independent think tank that studies federal spending and budgets, says the more accurate way to judge the government’s fiscal posture is to consider spending relative to the country’s gross domestic product, or GDP. That way, you’re getting a more holistic view since the calculation compares spending to the size of the overall economy.
Using that approach, government spending as part of GDP went from 18.2 percent in 2000 to 24.7 percent in 2009. That increase is also far short of the doubling that Bruun claimed.
Contrast those numbers to those hit during the peak of World War II -- 43.6 percent of GDP in both 1943 and 1944.
It’s also worth looking at the size of the federal workforce, which has increased only slightly. The total federal personnel, which includes the military, has grown from 4.1 million in 2000 to 4.4 million in 2009. So that, too, is not close to double.
So it’s quite a stretch for Bruun to make that claim. When you adjust the number for inflation, measure it as a percentage of GDP and check the size of the federal workforce, it is far short of double. We find his claim Barely True.
Editor's note: This statement was rated Barely True when it was published. On July 27, 2011, we changed the name for the rating to Mostly False.
Scott Bruun for Congress website, Federal Spending, Sept. 15, 2010
E-mail interview with Alee Lockman of the Bruun campaign
Interview with Robert Bixby, executive director, The Concord Coalition, Sept. 17, 2010
House Budget Committee, Summary and Analysis of the President’s Detailed Fiscal Year 2010 Budget Request, May 2010
Office of Management and Budget, Historical Tables
Congressional Budget Office, Historical Data on the Federal Budget
U.S. Office of Personnel Management, Historical Federal Workforce Tables
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