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Tom Feran
By Tom Feran January 9, 2012

Senator Rob Portman says federal spending rose 21 percent over three years

Sen. Rob Portman voted with a big Senate majority in December to extend the payroll tax holiday, but voiced concerns the same day about a separate $1 trillion bill financing the Pentagon and other federal agencies.

"I just don't think this huge spending bill cuts enough," the Ohio Republican said. "With a 21 percent increase in federal spending over the past three years, Washington needs to cut back just as Ohio families have had to do."

His news release called spending "out of control."

That raised the eyebrows of PolitiFact Ohio. Has spending really increased by more than a fifth in three years?

We asked Portman's office, and were pointed to an analysis issued in November by the Congressional Budget Office.

Its first chart showed total federal outlays for 2008 of $2.98 trillion, compared with $3.6 trillion for 2011 -- an increase of 21 percent.

That confirmed Portman's figure, but the numbers left us with questions. What was responsible for the big and bigger jumps in spending shown in 2008 and 2009, which would have been under the watch of President Bush? (President Obama's first budget was for fiscal 2010.) Why had outlays actually declined in 2010?

We spoke with Jim Horney, vice president for federal fiscal policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

"The figure is right," he said about Portman's statement. But he said it would be wrong to conclude that the number shows a permanent increase in the rate of spending.

The big increase in 2008 and "really big" jump in 2009 were mainly, Horney said, "the result of the downturn, which drives up spending, and of attempts to deal with it."

The recession, which began in the 2007-2008 fiscal year, drove up spending in areas like unemployment insurance and safety net programs. Attempts to deal with it included the Troubled Asset Relief Program and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

"The big (spending) increase was driven by temporary factors. We're sort of leveling off now," Horney said.

In the next three-year cycle, he noted, the projected spending of $3.6 trillion for 2012 is only 2.6 percent more than the actual outlays of $3.5 trillion in fiscal 2009-2012. The increase in the previous cycle, 2007-2010, was more than 27 percent.

Portman's figure on spending was correct. But it is significant that the spending crosses administrations and is demonstrably tied to the faltering economy. That’s additional information that provides clarification.

On the Truth-O-Meter, we rate his claim Mostly True.

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Our Sources

Sen. Rob Portman, news release "Portman Votes to Curb Out of Control Spending and for Bipartisan Payroll Tax Agreement," Dec. 17, 2011

The Hill, "Senate approves two-month extension of payroll tax holiday," Dec. 17, 2011

Associated Press, "Senate OKs payroll tax cut, huge spending bill," Dec. 17, 2011, Voting record of Sen. Rob Portman, accessed Jan. 5, 2012

Email with Portman press office, Jan. 4, 2012

Congresssional Budget Office, Monthly Budget Review, Nov. 7, 2011

Interview with Jim Horney, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Jan. 5, 2012

Office of Management and Budget, FY2012 Budget, Historical table 1.1

Congressional Budget Office, Budget and Economic Outlook, August 2011

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Senator Rob Portman says federal spending rose 21 percent over three years

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