Fact check: Romney's attack on Santorum over "size of government"

Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney AP Photo

Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney
AP Photo
As Republicans battle it out for their party's nomination for the presidency, they are fighting, not just over government spending, but also who is the biggest deficit hawk. Part of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney's attack on his newly surging opponent, Rick Santorum, is that the former Pennsylvania senator is a Washington insider who pushed earmark spending and ballooned the debt and the size of government.

This week in Cincinnati, Romney went after Santorum. "I don't believe it's appropriate of us to keep raising the debt ceiling every year. He voted 5 times to raise the debt ceiling. Without getting compensating cuts in spending," he said, even though the notion of offsetting a debt ceiling increase with spending cuts is a very modern invention.

But Romney didn't stop there. "During his time in Senate - only 2 terms - the size of government grew 80 percent. When Republicans go to Washington and spend like Democrats, you're going to have a lot of spending," he said.

Last week Romney used another number to paint Santorum as a big spender.

"I hope people take a very close look at his record. Because he was in Congress for about 20 years and during that time the size of the federal government doubled during his time in office," he said in Boise, Idaho.

Full coverage: Campaign 2012

Romney in his attacks doesn't cite where he gets his information, but Santorum did serve two terms in the senate, from 1995 to 2007. Before that, he served in the House of Representatives for two terms, starting in 1991. His overall congressional service lasted about 16 years.

So how does Romney get his statistics?

In terms of the federal budget, the 1991 budget was 1.324 trillion dollars. In 1995, it was 1.515 trillion and in 2007, it was 2.728 trillion.

If going with budget numbers alone from Santorum's entire time in Congress, the budget basically doubled. Over his senate career, the budget did in fact go up 80 percent.

But do those numbers tell the whole truth?

Let's take a look at the size of the federal workforce.

According to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, there were some 5,152,000 people working for the federal government in 1991. In 2007, that number was 4,127,000 - a decrease of roughly 20 percent.

And taking a look at the budget as percentage of the nation's gross domestic product, or GDP, the numbers of budget size alone don't tell the entire picture.

In 1991, the nation's GDP was 5.93 trillion dollars. In 1995, it was 7.341 trillion, and in 2007, it was 13.891 trillion. So as the size of the U.S. economy grew, so did the federal budget.

In fact as a percent of GDP, the federal budget actually dropped slightly over the years Santorum was in office. In 1991 it was 22.3 percent, down to 20.6 percent in 1995 and was 19.6 percent in 2007.

So it appears that Romney's claim while statistically accurate in terms of only the federal budget, doesn't begin to show the entire picture.

In fact, the conservative Weekly Standard magazine took a look as well. In an article entitled "Was Santorum a Senate Spendthrift?" Jeffrey Anderson and Andy Wickersham analyze the National Taxpayers Union scoring of members of Congress for votes on protecting tax dollars, giving "A"s to those who are "the strongest supporters of responsible tax and spending policies."

Here's what The Weekly Standard concluded: "Across the 12 years in question, only 6 of the 50 senators got A's in more than half the years. Santorum was one of them. He was also one of only 7 senators who never got less than a B.... Moreover, while much of the Republican party lost its fiscal footing after George W. Bush took office -- although it would be erroneous to say that the Republicans were nearly as profligate as the Democrats -- Santorum was the only senator who got A's in every year of Bush's first term. None of the other 49 senators could match Santorum's 4.0 GPA over that span. This much alone would paint an impressive portrait of fiscal conservatism on Santorum's part. Yet it doesn't even take into account a crucial point: Santorum was representing Pennsylvania."

The authors conclude that because he was representing a blue state in that time (one that voted for Democrats running for president in 1996, 2000 and 2004), "one could certainly make the case that Santorum was the most fiscally conservative senator during his tenure."

  • Robert Hendin On Twitter»

    Robert Hendin is senior producer for "Face the Nation" and a CBS News senior political producer.

Comments

CBSN Live

pop-out
Live Video

Watch CBSN Live

Watch CBS News anytime, anywhere with the new 24/7 digital news network. Stream CBSN live or on demand for FREE on your TV, computer, tablet, or smartphone.