Barack Obama wants us to return to Clinton-era tax rates, so how about Clinton-era spending rates as well? And we don't have to use absolute-dollar values... let's go back to Clinton-era spending as a proportion of GDP.
In arguing for a return to Clinton-era tax rates for wealthy households, with a top marginal rate of 39.6 percent rather than the Bush-era 35 percent, President Obama suggests that Slick Willy cooked up precisely the right recipe for growth and prosperity. The boom times and economic dynamism that characterized the last five years of Bill Clinton's presidency strongly support that contention. But by addressing only the taxing part of the equation and not the spending levels, Democrats leave out the most important element in the winning formula.
Indeed, even if we went back to the good old days of Clinton taxation levels but maintained our current rates of spending, we'd suffer from devastating deficits of close to $1 trillion each year.
According to official government figures, the feds collected revenues totaling 20.6 percent of the gross domestic product in 2000, the final full year of Clinton's term. Under Obama in 2012, however, Washington spent money at a near-record rate of 24.3 percent of the GDP. Even with all of Clinton's tax revenues, that still would have left a deficit of 3.7 percent of GDP, significantly higher even than the worst full year of the much-reviled George W. Bush.
However, what effect would such cuts have on national defense? Clinton cut defense spending to the bone, and it's not clear we should return to pre-9/11 levels there. So maybe 20.6% of GDP isn't quite right, but 24.3% is certainly too high.