Thursday, September 18th, 2014

Original version of PolitiFact's fact-check of a comment by Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the original version of the fact-check we posted on a statement by Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, on Oct. 27, 2011. Hensarling's office did not get back to us by publication time, but they did respond with data to back up the comment after our story came out. We have re-evaluated the comment and posted that on our website. This version serves to archive the article as it originally appeared on our site.


Statement by Rep. Jeb Hensarling:

The departments of Commerce, Education and Energy and the EPA saw their spending increase by between 130 percent and 219 percent between 2008 and 2010.


During an Oct. 26, 2011, hearing of the congressional Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction -- the "supercommittee" that’s charged with making steep cuts in the federal budget -- the co-chairman, Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, offered budgetary statistics designed to show massive spending increases by federal agencies in recent years.

Here’s a portion of the back-and-forth between Hensarling and Douglas Elmendorf, director of the Congressional Budget Office, the non-partisan arm of Congress that analyzes budget and fiscal matters.

Hensarling: "Is it not true that the stimulus bill, with interest, amounts to over a $1 trillion of spending, which accounts for a large temporary growth in our discretionary budget?"

Elmendorf: "Yes, although, as you know, Congressman, only a part of the Recovery Act was about discretionary spending. There were also increases in mandatory spending and reductions in taxes. In total we put it a little over $800 billion, and including interest I think you're right about a trillion. And it did lead to a bulge in discretionary funding and then to … an attenuated bulge in outlays because not all of the money got spent right away."

Hensarling: "I don't know if you have at your fingertips numbers with respect to agency growth. I had quoted a few, and now that I look down, apparently the source is your office, so I hope I'm quoting your office correctly."

Elmendorf: "I don't have those at hand, Congressman, but ... if they're numbers from us, then you can certainly trust those!" (Laughter in the hearing room.)

Hensarling: "I can trust them. Well, then I trust that when you add in the stimulus, the Commerce Department has grown 219 percent from '08 to '10, that with the stimulus, EPA has grown 130.8 percent. The Energy Department has grown 170.7 percent with the stimulus. Education has grown 180.6 percent at a time when the economy has actually seen negative economic growth and family paychecks have shrunk."

When this exchange got picked up in a Fox News web article, a reader saw it and asked us whether Hensarling’s numbers were accurate. So we took a look.

Neither Hensarling nor CBO got back to us, and we were unable to find CBO figures addressing the question of departmental growth. So we turned to another reliable source -- historical tables for fiscal statistics published every year by the Office of Management and Budget.

We found two OMB tables that were relevant -- one listing annual outlays for each department, and the other listing discretionary budget authority for each department. In the fiscal policy world, "outlays" are dollars actually spent, while "discretionary budget authority" means the amount of money a department is allowed to spend in that year. The difference between the two figures comes down to two factors. First, some dollars, known as "mandatory spending," are determined by a formula rather than spent at the department’s discretion ("discretionary spending"). Mandatory spending would appear in the outlay table but not the discretionary budget authority table. Second, some money authorized in a given year is not actually spent in that year; these dollars would appear in the discretionary spending table but not in the outlay table.

Long story short, both tables measure similar but somewhat different things. However, since Hensarling used the non-specific term "growth," we think that either measure is an appropriate yardstick.

So how do Hensarling’s numbers stack up? For convenience, here’s what Hensarling said -- departmental growth from 2008 to 2010 -- broken down into tabular form:

Commerce: Up 219 percent
Education: Up 181 percent
Energy: Up 171 percent
EPA. Up 131 percent

Here are the figures for outlay growth between 2008 and 2010:

Commerce: Up 71 percent
Education: Up 41 percent
Energy: Up 44 percent
EPA: Up 39 percent

And here are the figures for discretionary budget authority growth between 2008 and 2010:

Commerce: Up 70 percent
Education: Up 12 percent
Energy: Up 24 percent
EPA: Up 37 percent

So, using either measure, the increases cited by Hensarling are much higher than what OMB reported. His increases are typically three to five times higher than OMB’s numbers.

Just to be sure, we also checked the increases from 2008 to 2009 -- the first year that stimulus spending would have been reflected -- on the theory that the increases might have been higher over the course of one year.

Here’s the growth in outlays from 2008 to 2009:

Commerce: Up 39 percent
Education: Down 19 percent
Energy: Up 11 percent
EPA: Up 2 percent

And here’s the growth in discretionary budget authority from 2008 to 2009:

Commerce: Up 119 percent
Education: Up 172 percent
Energy: Up 194 percent
EPA: Up 99 percent

Using these one-year growth figures, Hensarling is even further off for outlays, though he’s kind of close for discretionary budget authority for Education and Energy. And we’re cutting him a break by even evaluating this time window -- he clearly referred to the period 2008 to 2010.

Any way you slice it, the growth figures Hensarling offered appear to be wildly exaggerated.

There’s also another problem: Even if the increases he cited were right, Hensarling would have been guilty of cherry picking by using the figures from 2008 to 2010.

While the stimulus spending was designed to be spread over a few years, the bulk of it was spent in 2009 and 2010. Yet the stimulus was designed to be temporary. Someone hearing Hensarling’s figures might assume that the large increases he cited would continue into the future, when in fact departmental budgets were designed to return to a more historically "normal" level by 2011 and beyond.

"It is a little disingenuous to infer the stimulus bulge as the baseline increase in agency budgets," said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, an independent group that analyzes federal spending.

Ellis added that he’s heard Democrats doing the opposite. "You often find Democrats complaining about draconian cuts from 2009 to 2011, using the same bulge in the other direction," he said.

Our ruling

If we learn of some alternative budget figures that are closer to Hensarling’s numbers, we’ll be happy to reconsider our analysis. However, OMB’s figures are considered reliable, and they show that in almost every case, Hensarling’s department-by-department increases are wildly exaggerated. It’s true that spending went up between 2008 and 2010 due to the stimulus, but not as high as Hensarling indicated, and the increased spending from the stimulus was always designed to be temporary. We rate Hensarling’s statement False.


Jeb Hensarling, comments at a hearing of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, Oct. 26, 2011 (accessed via Nexis), "Democrats Balk at Non-Defense Spending Cuts, Float Alternative Proposal to Super Committee," Oct. 26, 2011

Office of Management and Budget, "Table 4.1—Outlays by Agency: 1962–2016," accessed Oct. 27, 2011

Office of Management and Budget, "Table 5.4—Discretionary Budget Authority by Agency: 1976–2016," accessed Oct. 27, 2011

E-mail interview with Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, Oct. 27, 2011

Written by: Louis Jacobson
Researched by: Louis Jacobson
Edited by: Martha Hamilton