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FACT CHECK: Is Obama like Ike on spending?

By Cal Woodward
Associated Press / April 5, 2012
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WASHINGTON—President Barack Obama likes Ike.

Twice in his barnburner campaign speech this week, Obama likened his administration to Republican Dwight Eisenhower's in asserting that he's got domestic spending on a path to be the lowest, as a share of the economy, since Ike was president.

Can this be? More or less, yes. That's if it can be assumed that a president's budget assumptions for years ahead will become reality, always a dubious proposition.

A look at Obama's Ike-centric statements and how they compare with the record:

-- "I've ... put annual domestic spending on a path to become the smallest share of the economy since Dwight Eisenhower held this office, since before I was born."

-- "As a percentage of our GDP, our discretionary spending -- all the things that the Republicans are proposing cutting -- is actually lower than it's been since Dwight Eisenhower."

THE FACTS: Obama hasn't achieved that yet, but he has at least proposed putting the nation on such a path with the hope of reaching that goal by the end of his presidency if he is re-elected.

Obama is talking about non-defense discretionary spending, the category of domestic spending that Congress can control year to year by deciding on priorities. It excludes entitlement spending, interest payments and other spending that is essentially locked in. His aim was to show that today's record trillion-dollar deficits were made necessary by the recession and unemployment, not by any wish by him to spend prolifically.

The administration's Office of Management and Budget projects that non-defense domestic spending will drop to 2.9 percent of the gross domestic product in the 2015 budget year and 2.8 percent in 2016, from an estimated 3.9 percent this year. That would be the lowest since Congress achieved 2.2 percent at the end of Eisenhower's presidency.

Whether that's really in the cards remains to be seen. Projections three or four years ahead don't carry much weight.

Moreover, as the fact-checking organization PolitiFact pointed out when Obama compared himself to Eisenhower in February, the ledger is somewhat skewed because $54 billion in surface transportation money has been shifted from the discretionary spending column to mandatory spending, improving the bottom line on paper if not in reality.

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