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By Jacob Geiger June 10, 2011

Robert Hurt says some federal spending is up over 80 percent in two years

U.S. Rep. Robert Hurt recently refashioned a threadbare GOP claim on the growth of federal spending under President Barack Obama.

Hurt, R-5th, wrote in a June 3 newsletter that non-defense discretionary spending has increased "by over 80 percent in the last two years."

Does the the Southside Virginia congressman have his facts right?  We thought we’d check.

First, a few definitions. Discretionary spending is the money Congress controls through annual appropriations. It goes for services such as defense, education, health and housing. In contrast, mandatory spending is used for entitlement programs with required levels of spending -- Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

About 60 percent of discretionary spending goes towards the U.S. defense budget. As the phrase suggests, "non-defense discretionary spending" removes military money from the pot. So Hurt is addressing a left over portion of the U.S. budget that accounts for about one-sixth of annual spending.

Amanda Henneberg, Hurt’s press secretary, said her boss’s statement was based on a Feb. 3 news release by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., the chairman of the House Budget Committee.

PolitiFact is no stranger to Ryan’s release. An assortment of Republicans -- including speaker Speaker Boehner of Ohio and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia -- have used Ryan’s numbers to exaggerate spending increases since Obama took office Jan. 20, 2009.

Ryan’s numbers show non-defense discretionary spending rose from $434 billion in fiscal 2008 to $537 billion in fiscal 2010. That’s a 23.7 percent jump. Then Ryan added $259 billion in stimulus money to the fiscal 2010 ledger, since that’s the amount of the roughly $862 billion stimulus outlay deemed discretionary by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office.

If you compare the new 2010 total -- $796 billion -- to the original $434 billion, you get an 83.4 percent increase. It creates a convenient Republican chart that shows non-defense discretionary spending soaring up like a rocket from 2008 through 2010. If Ryan put the stimulus money in 2009, when it was approved, his chart would look like a roller coaster -- spending would have climbed steeply in 2009 and dropped in 2010.

Hurt’s newsletter did not mention that he was counting the stimulus money. And there’s a major problem with the congressman’s math.

The CBO counts all of the stimulus funds in the 2009 budget, since that’s the year the bill passed Congress. Hurt and other Republicans have chosen to move the stimulus money to its 2010 budget count.

The money actually is being spent over several years. The bulk of the spending came in 2009 and 2010, with increasingly smaller amounts being spent this year and in the next several years. The CBO says it cannot provide a breakdown of how much money is being spent each year.  

To get another look at how much the government has spent in each of the past several years, we turned to budget tables from the Office of Management and Budget. The OMB is the White House’s budget office. It tracks exactly how much was spent by each agency during the past several years, regardless of the source of the funding.

According to OMB tables, non-defense discretionary spending was $522.4 billion in fiscal 2008 and climbed to $658.2 billion in fiscal 2010. That is a 26 percent increase, roughly in line with the increase cited by Ryan.

But that spike includes money from the stimulus, said Meg Reilly, an OMB spokeswoman. It counts all non-defense discretionary money spent by the government during the given year.

Paul Krugman, a liberal economist who teaches at Princeton University and is a columnist for The New York Times, noted in a recent blog that the OMB projects non-defense discretionary spending to fall off rapidly in 2012 and 2013, as stimulus funds are exhausted. By 2013, the OMB estimates it will be back at 2009 levels, though that is still about 10 percent higher than 2008 spending, the last full budget year under former Republican President George W. Bush.

"So this GOP talking point is a complete fraud; it’s based on counting the same spending several times over," Krugman wrote.

Let’s review Hurt’s claim.

The Virginia Congressman said non-defense discretionary spending has climbed "by over 80 percent in the last two years." Unlike other Republicans who have made similar claims, he did not say that much of the increase came from the 2009 stimulus bill.

Republicans reach this number by putting all of the one-time discretionary stimulus money in the 2010 budget instead of 2009, when the stimulus was approved.

Moreover, data from the White House budget office provide strong evidence that the GOP has double-counted the stimulus.

The White House budget office shows non-defense discretionary spending rose 26 percent from 2008 to 2010. The CBO, which Hurt and other Republicans cite as their source, puts the increase at 23.7 percent.

That’s a long way from the "over 80 percent"  increase claimed by Hurt. We rate his statement False. 

Our Sources

Rep. Robert Hurt, Weekly column, June 3, 2011.

Office of Management and Budget, Outlays for discretionary spending, accessed June 8, 2011.

Congressional Budget Office, The budget and economic outlook, Fiscal years 2011 to 2021, January 2011, accessed June 7, 2011.

Congressional Budget Office, The budget and economic outlook, Fiscal years 2010 to 2020, January 2010, accessed June 7, 2011.

Congressional Budget Office, The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, accessed June 7, 2011.

The New York Times, Discretionary truthiness, May 29, 2011.

PolitiFact Virginia, Eric Cantor says discretionary spending up 20 percent, 80 percent with stimulus, April 1, 2011.

PolitiFactWisconsin, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan says Obama increased spending nearly 25 percent in two years, 84 percent when stimulus money is included, January 27, 2011.

PolitiFactWisconsin, Paul Ryan says U.S. discretionary spending increased 84 percent in the last two years, Nov. 7, 2010.

House Budget Committee, The Democrats’ spending spree, Feb. 3, 2011.

Interview with James Horney, Vice president for federal fiscal policy, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, June 7, 2011.

E-mail interview with Amanda Henneberg, press secretary for Rep. Robert Hurt, June 7, 2011.

Interview with Deborah Kilroe, spokeswoman, Congressional Budget Office, June 7, 2011.

Interview with Meg Reilly, spokeswoman, Office of Management and Budget, June 8, 2011.

E-mail interview with Paul Krugman, professor of economics, Princeton University, June 8, 2011.

E-mail interview with Conor Sweeney, spokesman for Rep. Paul Ryan, June  7 and 8, 2011.

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Robert Hurt says some federal spending is up over 80 percent in two years

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