DNC State of the Union Attack
January 31, 2006
A DNC TV ad accuses Bush of breaking his word, but it strains some facts in the process.
An ad released by the Democratic National Committee in advance of President Bush's Jan. 31 State of the Union address accuses him of breaking his word on jobs, education, body armor for troops and the federal deficit. We find it misleading in most respects, but close to the mark on the deficit.
Jobs:The ad gives a misleading picture of Bush's record on jobs, which is weak but not as weak as the ad implies. It uses a misleading statistic that focuses only on one category of employment: manufacturing. In fact, counting all categories of employment, the economy has squeezed out a gain of nearly 2 million jobs since Bush took office five years ago.
Body Armor: The ad also takes liberties with a New York Times story that said the lives of 300 troops might have been saved with "improved" body armor. The ad calls it "proper" body armor, a term not used by the Times story. Actually, some military experts say the bulkier, heavier new armor would unduly weigh down troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Education: The ad says Bush's "No Child Left Behind" legislation has been "underfunded" by nearly $10 billion. That's misleading because federal aid for elementary schools and high schools actually has increased 33 percent under Bush, according to the Congressional Research Service. The "underfunding" refers to the gap that remains between the higher spending levels signed by Bush and the authorization level – the theoretical maximum that could be appropriated. In fact, federal appropritions usually fall short of their authorized levels for education programs, in both Republican and Democratic administrations.
Deficit: The ad is close to the mark, however, when it chides Bush on the deficit, which the President said four years ago would be "small and short-term." In fact, the deficit projected for this year is close to a record in dollar terms and higher than average even as measured as a percentage of US economic output. It is nearly the same as in 1968, when Lyndon Johnson was spending heavily for the Vietnam War and his Great Society programs, though less than half what it reached in 1983 under Ronald Reagan.
The Democratic National Committee announced Jan. 27 that it would air a 60-second TV television ad on Las Vegas television stations. National Journal's "Ad Spotlight" later reported that the ad would also run Feb. 1 in Nashville, TN where the President is scheduled to make his first speech after the State of the Union address. The new ad is called "Broken Promises" and it features a series of quotes from President Bush, some of which have also been featured in a Kerry Campaign television advertisement that ran in 2004.
Bush: We make a pledge. We keep our word.
The ad shows Bush delivering his 2002 State of the Union address, saying "my economic security plan can be summed up in one word: jobs." It then shows a statistic from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS): "2.8 million manufacturing jobs lost."
That is misleading. Actually, in the four years since Bush delivered that line, the economy has gained nearly 3.9 million jobs. So to that degree, at least, he has kept his word.
It's true the economy struggled during Bush's first term, and it is also literally true that latest BLS figures show 2.8 million fewer manufacturing jobs than when the President first took office. But relatively few people work on production lines these days. Manufacturing counts for only 10.6 percent of all employment. More people work in professional and business employment (12.8 per cent), education and health services (13.0 per cent) or government (16.3 per cent) for example.
Furthermore, the decline in manufacturing jobs began years before Bush took office. Between March of 1998 and the time Bush took office in 2001, the economy already had lost 536,000 manufacturing jobs. During his entire eight-year tenure President Clinton barely broke even in this category, holding onto a small net gain of 311,000 manufacturing jobs despite the decline in his last three years.
Looking at total employment, it is fair to say that Bush's record on jobs is weak, especially compared to Clinton's. The economy started to lose jobs within two months of Bush's taking office in January 2001, and continued to do so until the low point of May 2003. Latest figures show a net gain of nearly 2 million jobs. But that compares to 17.6 million for Clinton during his first five years, and 22.7 million for all eight years of Clinton's tenure.
The ad says "proper body armor could have saved hundreds of lives," citing a New York Times news story on screen. That's also misleading. The Times story refers to "extra" body armor, and does not use the word "proper" to describe it. Furthermore, the story places no blame on Bush or the White House for failing to supply the bulkier, heavier type of armor, which has been the subject of debate among military planners at the Pentagon.
The Times story cites a “secret Pentagon study” by medical examiners of 93 Marines who died of upper-body wounds. The study found that in 31 of those cases larger body-armor plates "'would have had the potential to alter the fatal outcome." The Times reporter said this "suggests" that 300 or more lives might have been saved with "improved" body armor, though this is the reporter's conclusion, extrapolating the findings over all combat deaths in Iraq, and not part of the study itself.
Body armor already has undergone considerable improvements since the Iraq War began. And not all military experts agree that the added bulk and weight of more armor would be a good thing. After the Times story ran, The Associated Press reported from Iraq quoting several soldiers who didn't like the idea. Among them was Capt. Jamey Turner, 35, of Baton Rouge, La. "You've got to sacrifice some protection for mobility," The AP quoted him saying. "If you cover your entire body in ceramic plates, you're just not going to be able to move." A few days later the Times ran an opinion piece by military writer Andrew Exum, a former infantry officer in Iraq and Afghanistan, who said newer body armor unveiled by the Pentagon doubles its weight, from 16 pounds to 32 pounds for a medium-sized soldier. "At some point, the public's desire to wrap our troops in a protective blanket of armor just gets ridiculous," Exum stated. Nevertheless, the Army placed an emergency, $70-million order for 230,000 ceramic armor side plates with California-based Ceradyne Inc. on Jan. 20.
The ad also faults Bush for "underfunding" his No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) by almost $10 billion. The NCLB Act instituted mandatory testing of students in reading and mathematics and requires schools to make progress toward statewide proficiency goals.
The DNC cites as its source a recent Congressional Research Service report, which actually shows that federal appropriations for federal programs supporting grades kindergarten through 12th grade have increased by one-third under Bush, to more than $37 billion in the current fiscal year ending Oct. 30. The CRS report does not offer any support for the Democratic claim that Bush promised additional federal funds when the NCLB ad was passed with bipartisan support in 2002.
Since then, the CRS report notes, "there has been a continuing discussion regarding the appropriations 'promised' and the resulting 'shortfall' when the enacted appropriations are compared to authorization levels." Authorization levels are dollar amounts contained in the legislation that creates federal programs. But before any money can be spent a separate appropriation measure must be passed, which seldom provides the maximum amount of money that is authorized. As the CRS report notes, "In the past, education programs with specified authorization amounts generally have been funded at lower levels; few have been funded at levels equal to or higher than the specified authorization amount."
In the case of programs affected by NCLB, the CRS report calculated that appropriations were $9.1 billion less than the authorization levels last year, and $12.0 billion less in the current fiscal year. That is what the DNC ad calls "underfunding." W e find it misleading to use the term "underfunding" without explaining what that really means.
The ad quotes Bush as saying "Our budget will run a deficit that will be small and short-term," and shows on screen: "Deficit Of $337 Billion in 2006." The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is cited as the source.
Bush’s deficit this year is larger than average even measured the way most economists prefer, as a percentage of the entire US economy (gauged by Gross Domestic Product, or GDP). CBO expects the deficit to be about 2.8 percent of GDP this year. The average since 1962 has been 2.2 percent.
Viewed in historical context, the current deficit is nearly the same as the 2.9 percent of GDP recorded in 1968, when Lyndon Johnson was pressing both the Vietnam War and domestic spending for his Great Society programs. Bush's projected deficit would be less than half what it was in 1983 under Ronald Reagan, when tax cuts and military spending pushed the deficit to 6 percent of GDP.
Like the jobs statement, the Bush quote comes from his State of the Union address Jan. 29, 2002:
Note that Bush left himself an out – saying "so long as Congress restrains spending." However, Bush has yet to veto any congressionally approved spending measure and has pushed to renew and extend tax cuts. While Democrats criticize him mostly for tax cuts, his own party's conservatives have criticized him at times for allowing spending to rise rapidly.
- by Brooks Jackson & Emi Kolawole
Bureau of Labor Statistics, "The Employment Situation: December 2005," news release, 6 Jan 2006.
Michael Moss, "Pentagon Study Links Fatalities To Body Armor, New York Times 7 Jan 2006:A1.
Ryan Lenz, "U.S. soldiers question use of more armor despite Pentagon study," 7 Jan 2006.
Andrew Exum, "All Dressed Up With No Way to Fight," New York Times 14 Jan 2006:A15.
"Ceradyne, Inc. Receives $70 Million Ceramic Body Armor Order," press release, Ceradyne, Inc. 20 Jan 2006.
"Army signs emergency contract for body armor," The Associated Press, 21 Jan 2006.
Paul M. Irwin, "K-12 Education Programs: Recent Appropriations," Congressional Research Service, 4 Jan 2006.
"The Budget and Economic Outlook: Fiscal Years 2007 to 2016," Congressional Budget Office, 26 Jan 2006.
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