Big Spenders Get Worse Every Year: The History of Growth Since 1940

In March of 2018, President Trump signed into law a $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill to avoid shutting down the federal government. After signing the 2,200-page bill, the president proclaimed he would “never sign another bill like this again.” Could this really be the end of the decades-long trend of expanded central spending and power? If past history tells us anything, the answer is a resounding “No!”
The truth is for nearly the last century, there has been an undeniable, dramatic trend upward in government spending in real and in nominal terms. In fact, since 1940, average yearly federal spending has increased during every single administration – whether Republican or Democratic Party.
Average Yearly Federal Spending by Presidential Administration Adjusted to 2009 Dollars

  • Roosevelt- $512.1 billion
  • Truman – $ 547.6 billion
  • Eisenhower – $633.0 billion
  • Kennedy – $683.7 billion
  • Johnson – $879.34 billion
  • Nixon – $1055.7 billion
  • Ford – $1260.3 billion
  • Carter – $1404.9 billion
  • Reagan – $1696.1 billion
  • Bush 1 – $1991.65 billion
  • Clinton – $2116.9 billion
  • Bush 2 – $2649.6 billion
  • Obama – $3374.8 billion
  • Trump – $3530.7 billion

There have only been 12 years (mostly under Truman, Eisenhower, and Clinton) in which the government hasn’t run a federal deficit. As you can see, it doesn’t matter who the president is, or which party holds the majority in Congress, there has always been a reason to keep government spending going; from wars, to bailouts, to social programs, or simply to kick the can down the road.
The seeds for the modern-day spending regime were planted in the policies that funded the first World War I during the Wilson administration. They really began to take root in the aftermath of the stock market crash of 1929. World War I provided cause for the federal government to spend outside of it means in the name of “providing for the common defense”, but the economic havoc created by the Depression justified vast governmental intervention beyond constitutionally authorized limits and into aspects of the American economy.
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