In Defense of Michael Medved
The case for Clinton-era-style spending rates could easily be made two years ago, and things haven't changed much since. As an example, education rose a total of only six percent in Clinton's last six years (when the GOP had Congress), yet it exploded by more than 110% in Bush's first six years.
I am glad that conservative talk show host Michael Medved has touched on this point in the Daily Beast. His focus is not on annual increased or decreases of spending in raw or inflation adjusted dollars, but rather on spending as a percent of GDP. Yet he makes the argument all the same.
But some on the left retort that domestic spending rates need to be higher now because the economy is very bad, whereas in the 1990s the economy was booming. My response to this is as follows:
1) Clinton hiked spending on infrastructure and education at a slower rate than did Bush 43, and certainly slower than Obama. These categories do not have more or less of a need to be taken care of, whether GDP is at 1.8% or the unemployment rate is at 4.5%. Bush 43 spent a lot on those issues, and Obama even more. If Democrats are proud of Clinton-era budgets (indeed they are), we should repeat his spending on these issues...if, that is, Dems are serious about balancing the budget.
2) The unemployment rate in Clinton's last six years (when Republicans had Congress) was on average 4.76%, while the first six years of Bush Jr. averaged 5.2%. If Democrats are proud of those six Clinton years where health care spending rose by less than six percent a year, why claim that Bush is "anti-poor" when health care spending rose more than 10% in each of his first six years in office? (Those numbers exclude Medicare.)
Indeed, conservatives gave Bush hell for spending, but how do Dems have the chutzpah to bash Bush while praising Clinton's tight outlays, when his economy was not much better than those Bush years?
3) This number will make Democrats' heads explode: the poverty level in Bush's worst year in office (2008) was better than five of the Clinton years, yet Democrats were not happy with Bush's domestic spending levels. They therefore hiked spending when they took over in 2007, and then spending rose more when Democrats had full control in 2009. But of course, in 2012, at the Democratic Convention, they all praised Clinton surpluses... (See here for historical poverty level data: Table 5, Column Three.)
The bottom line is that a "bad economy" is not reason enough to spend at much higher rates than Clinton because A) Democrats just ended a campaign season telling us how great the economy is, B) much of Clinton's controlled spending that skyrocketed under Bush and exploded under Obama has nothing to do whether the economy is bad or good, and C) perhaps -- just perhaps -- spending to "help the poor" like Bush did is part of "the policies of the past that got us here in the first place." Thus Obama doubling down on such policies is the reason why we cannot see ourselves getting out of this economic mess.