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PolitiFact: Obama spending claims contain dose of budget hocus-pocus

The statement

The White House budget plan will bring domestic discretionary spending to its lowest share of our economy since Dwight Eisenhower was president.

President Barack Obama, on his proposed budget

The ruling

Obama has used the phrase "domestic spending" or "domestic discretionary spending," but you won't find either term in the actual budget from the White House Office of Management and Budget. A spokeswoman said Obama was talking about nonsecurity discretionary spending. Furthermore, when Obama said it will "bring" domestic spending, as a percentage of GDP, to Eisenhower levels, he didn't mean next year, he meant by 2015.

In other words, there's some fine print required to understand the president's shorthand.

Let's look at the numbers based on those parameters. According to an OMB chart on the proposed budget by category as a percentage of GDP, nonsecurity discretionary spending would go from 3.4 percent in 2011 to 2.9 percent in 2012, and down to 2.1 percent in 2015.

According to a graphic provided by the White House, the 2.1 percent in 2015 would be the lowest level since FY 1961 under an Eisenhower budget, when the level was 2.2 percent.

The budget analysts at the conservative Heritage Foundation, however, say that the White House used some gimmicks.

Chiefly, they say, the White House reclassified $54 billion of surface transportation spending from discretionary to mandatory spending. Voila, discretionary spending goes down.

Brian Riedl, lead budget analyst at Heritage, said it reminded him of an old satirical headline from The Onion: "Eight Million Americans Rescued From Poverty With Redefinition Of Term."

Moving surface transportation spending into the mandatory category was actually a recommendation of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform.

So the White House may have a sound argument for shifting that highway money to the mandatory spending category. Nonetheless, it makes the discretionary spending bottom line look better without any heavy lifting.

We rate the claim Half True.

This ruling has been edited for print. For the full version — and to read other rulings — go to

PolitiFact: Obama spending claims contain dose of budget hocus-pocus 02/17/11 [Last modified: Thursday, February 17, 2011 9:30pm]
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