Krugman posits that the increase in government spending is mainly due to two factors.
1 - Since the economy has contracted, government spending is going to make up a larger percentage of GDP. Pretty straight forward.
2 - More people are unemployed and are thus collecting from various social safety nets: unemployment, medicaid, food stamps, etc.
The blue line is government (at all levels) spending as a percentage of GDP, so in the last 25 years it was fairly consistently was between 31%-34% of GDP. I'll also note it fell under Clinton and rose during W, although not by too much. Today it's 36%, actually not that high, relatively speaking. The red line is this same measure but as it relates to potential GDP. Basically, what our economy can and should produce. This number is about 34% which is much closer to the trend for the last 25 years.
|Source: Paul Krugman's Blog: The Conscience of a Liberal|
So there has been some increase in government (again, this is all levels of government, not just federal) spending, but a large portion of it is clearly due to our economy contracting (red line). If one considers #2 from above then it becomes clear that our government, sans safety net programs, has actually contracted in the last several years. This is extremely troubling.
Politics and our general inability to come together as a nation and implement our hard won knowledge (see Great Depression) has prolonged this recession and harmed many lives in the process. This isn't "oh we just don't have quite as much money..." This is more young people committing suicide, high school students skipping college, older workers not being able to retire when they planned to (even when working class people's life expectancy has stagnated. Source: 1, 2), and increasing rates of depression that are no doubt related to the inability to find a decent paying job. Bad things happening are a fact of life, but watching them happen when they're largely preventable is tragic