The truth is that the budget deficits of the past four years were mainly a temporary consequence of the financial crisis, which sent the economy into a tailspin — and which, therefore, led both to low tax receipts and to a rise in unemployment benefits and other government expenses. It should have been obvious that the deficit would come down as the economy recovered. But this point was hard to get across until deficit reduction started appearing in the data.This seemed unlikely to me, but you know, he's right.
Here are federal receipts:
Peak-to-trough the decline was $460 B. And here's unemployment payments:
Trough-to-peak the difference was $130 B.
Adding them makes a budget change of $590 B, which if you subtract from today's deficit of $1.2 T gives about $600 B, not a lot higher than what Bush had it up (well, down) to, about $400 B):
On a per capita, inflation-adjusted basis, total government spending (federal + state + local) has decreased 5.9% in the last 9 quarters.