If Congress had frozen federal spending at the level it reached in fiscal 2008, the last full fiscal year before President Barack Obama was inaugurated, the federal government would have had a balanced budget from fiscal 2014 onward based on the actual revenues the federal government collected under the existing tax laws in those years.
However, rather than freeze federal spending after 2008, Congress permitted it to rise by $998 billion—or 33.5 percent.
Even when the figures are adjusted for inflation, real federal spending has risen by 18.3 percent since fiscal 2008 (from $3,364,742,820,000 in constant 2017 dollars to $3,980,605,000,000.)
In fiscal 2008, the federal government took in $2,523,991,000,000 in revenue and spent $2,982,544,000,000, according to the historical tables published by the White House Office of Management and Budget. That left a deficit of $458,553,000,000.
But federal spending increased dramatically after fiscal 2008, jumping to $3,517,677,000,000 in fiscal 2009, driven in part by the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), which Obama voted for in the Senate and President George W. Bush signed in October 2008, and by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act stimulus bill, which Obama signed in February 2009.
(According to the latest CBO estimate, published in June 2017, TARP has cost the government a net of $33 billion. CBO estimated that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act would cost $787 billion.)
After fiscal 2009, federal spending never again dropped below $3 trillion, hitting its lowest level after fiscal 2008 in fiscal 2013, when it was $3,454,647,000,000.
In fiscal 2017, which ran through this September, the federal government spent just under $4 trillion ($3,980,605,000,000), according to the Monthly Treasury Statement.
In fiscal 2009 through 2012, federal revenues fell short of the $2,523,991,000,000 the federal government took in during fiscal 2008. But in fiscal 2013, federal revenues climbed to $2,775,105,000,000; then, in fiscal 2014, they climbed to $3,021,491,000,000.
The $3,021,491,000,000 in federal revenue for fiscal 2014 would have been more than enough to pay for the $2,982,544,000,000 in federal spending of fiscal 2008. Thus, had federal spending been frozen at the fiscal 2008 level until fiscal 2014, the federal government would have run a surplus of $38,947,000,000 that year.
In each year after fiscal 2014, federal revenues have exceeded the fiscal 2008 spending level of $2,982,544,000,000 by a widening margin.
In fiscal 2017, according to the Monthly Treasury Statement, the federal government took in $3,314,894,000,000 in taxes, but then spent $3,980,605,000—running a deficit of $666 billion.
Had federal spending been frozen at the fiscal 2008 level through fiscal 2017, the federal government would have run a surplus of $332 billion in the last fiscal year.
Since the last fiscal year before President George W. Bush took office (fiscal 2000), federal spending has more than doubled, increasing from $1,788,950,000,000 to $3,980,605,000,000—a jump of $2,191,655,000,000 or 122.5 percent.
When adjusted for inflation, real federal spending since the last fiscal year before George W. Bush took office has climbed from $2,542,008,350,000 in constant 2017 dollars to $3,980,605,000,000—a jump in real federal spending of $1,438,596,650,000 or 56.6 percent.