One of the most dreaded aspects of the looming presidential election has to be the mountain of lies that are going to be peddled out to the American public by the Far Right. The rhetoric is already stunning. Not so much that one side is so willing to peddle outright lies about a sitting American president, but that they’re allowed to get away with it. How many times have the media “balanced” their reporting by trotting out a complete lie from the Republicans alongside a factual truth by the Democrats, suggesting both arguments are equally valid because they’re both negative?

Of all the falsehoods told about President Barack Obama, the biggest whopper is the one about his reckless spending spree, the “Obama spending binge”. It’s the most vexing, actually, because it seems to be getting the most traction.

As would-be president Mitt Romney tells it: “I will lead us out of this debt and spending inferno.”

Anyone who looks at the facts has to ask… “what spending inferno?” Almost everyone believes that President Obama has presided over a massive increase in federal spending, an “inferno” of spending that threatens our jobs, our businesses and our children’s future. Even some Democrats seem to think it’s true.

The problem is… it didn’t happen. Although there was a big stimulus bill under Obama, federal spending is rising at the slowest pace since Dwight Eisenhower brought the Korean War to an end in the 1950s. The contention that federal spending has exploded under President Obama is all smoke and mirrors. It’s an outright lie, and the Republicans know it. But they also know that the American public doesn’t check its facts and will largely believe whatever they’re told.

If you’re interested, here are the facts, according to the official government statistics:

  • In fiscal 2010 — the first budget under Obama — spending fell 1.8% to $3.46 trillion.
  • In fiscal 2011, spending rose 4.3% to $3.60 trillion.
  • In fiscal 2012, spending is set to rise 0.7% to $3.63 trillion, according to the Congressional Budget Office’s estimate of the budget that was agreed to last August.

Over Obama’s four budget years, federal spending is on track to rise from $3.52 trillion to $3.58 trillion, an annualized increase of just 0.4%. There has been no huge increase in spending under the President Obama, despite what you’ve heard. Just more lies.

So… where do the Republicans get this crap from? How can they convince the American public of something that is simply not true? In part, they can get away with it because of a fundamental misunderstanding of the federal budget.

What people don’t seem to realize is that the first year of every presidential term starts with a budget approved by the previous administration and Congress. The president only begins to shape the budget in his second year. It takes time to develop a new budget and steer it through Congress — especially when Congress is barely functioning.

The 2009 fiscal year, which Republicans count as part of Obama’s legacy, began four months before Obama even moved into the White House. The major spending decisions in the 2009 fiscal year were made by George W. Bush and the previous Congress. Republicans. So the damaging statistics under President Obama are actually leftover crap from the previous Republican president and Republican dominated Congress. Like a relief pitcher who comes into the game with the bases loaded, President Obama took office with a budget in place that called for spending to increase by hundreds of billions of dollars in response to the worst economic and financial calamity in generations. And now the Republicans are trying to tar and feather him for something that they did.

Before Obama had even lifted a finger, the CBO was already projecting that the federal deficit would rise to $1.2 trillion in fiscal 2009. The government actually spent less money in 2009 than it was projected to, but the deficit expanded to $1.4 trillion because revenue from taxes fell much further than expected, due to the weak economy and the emergency tax cuts (mostly for rich people) that were part of the stimulus bill.

One thing the Republicans are desperately trying to hang around President Obama’s neck is the infamous Wall Street bail-outs, suggesting that Obama has uncomfortably close ties to Wall Street and approved the bail-outs as favors to his banking buddies. But the reality is that when President Obama took the oath of office, the $789 billion bank bailout, which had been shaped by the Bush administration, had already been approved. Federal spending on unemployment benefits, food stamps and Medicare was already surging to meet the dire unemployment crisis that was well underway. See the CBO’s January 2009 budget outlook.

So… what you need to know is that President Obama is not responsible for that increase, though he is responsible (along with the Congress) for about $140 billion in extra spending in the 2009 fiscal year from the stimulus bill, from the expansion of the children’s health-care program and from other appropriations bills passed in the spring of 2009.

If we attribute that $140 billion in stimulus to Obama and not to Bush, we find that spending under Obama grew by about $200 billion over four years, amounting to a 1.4% annualized increase. The significance of this is that, after adjusting for inflation, spending under Obama is falling at a 1.4% annual pace — the first decline in real spending since the early 1970s, when Richard Nixon was retreating from the quagmire in Vietnam.

In per capita terms, real spending will drop by nearly 5% from $11,450 per person in 2009 to $10,900 in 2013 (measured in 2009 dollars).

That is something the Republicans hope you’ll never understand. If the American public can ever be made to understand that the idea of runaway spending under Obama is hogwash, the last cornerstone of the Republican playbook for 2012 will evaporate. They can’t trash him over the economy because the economy is improving. They can’t trash him over jobs because unemployment is down. They can’t trash him for being weak because he made the decision to go after Osama Bin Laden (at great political risk). They can’t suggest he wasn’t born in this country anymore because Obama produced the long form birth certificate they demanded (which proves he was born in Hawaii).

So? What do they have left? Spending! It’s out of control. Only… it’s not.

In the end, the only thing that really matters is whether or not the Republicans can convince the American public that President Obama has led us into a “spending inferno”, even though the facts say otherwise. If they can do that, they might harm the president and thwart his re-election chances. But if they do, Mitt Romney will become president based on lie and smoke and mirrors. Whatever follows will be what this country deserves for being too lazy to check its facts.