The usual suspects have been passing around a chart they claim shows that we don't:
(clic the pic for an even more bigger image!)
Well, I have to say that it sure looks like a spending problem to me (N.B. I am not a Republican or a "conservative").
Remember that the graph is in per capita terms. Population growth has averaged right around 1% a year over this period, so there's a lot more spending than it seems.
Often it's appropriate to express things in per-capita terms, but government spending is *not* an obvious candidate. First off, much government spending is on public goods, which by virtual of their being non-rival (or partly non-rival) in consumption means that per-captia is a very poor way to express their spending levels. Defense spending per-capita is kind of a weird and meaningless concept. Infrastructure falls in the middle. Eventually population growth would require greater infrastructure spending due to crowding or faster depreciation, but per-capita is just not a completely appropriate way to express it. Entitlement spending might be best expressed per-recipient rather than per-captia.
Another strange thing about the graph is it attributes total spending to the president in office. This is just weird. Yes Bush was a terrible president. Yes we spent like crazy and ran up deficits with nothing to show for it. I get it. I agree with it. But the president doesn't control Federal spending, he only has the veto threat to try and shape congressional decisions. He doesn't have any real direct lever to affect state and local spending at all.
There is simply no reason to expect that real government spending per capita should constantly rise and there is not reason to impute said spending completely to the president in office when it occurred.